Musings

Weekly Musing: Best Piece of Advice

Flipping back through older posts I realize I’ve never talked about the best writing advice. Probably because writing advice is such a large and conflicting field that it’s hard to pick out those nuggets that I think are worth it.

Your Rough Draft Will Be Shit – Or if you’re me, your second, third, fourth, and maybe even final draft will be a big pile of crap. It’s very difficult to imagine our favorite books starting out as garbage and often took years to turn into the finished we product we all love. The fact some famous books are still garbage in their final drafts is scary.

Another way to look at it comes from Terry Pratchett, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Maybe this is why I consider my first few drafts to be garbage. The first couple drafts find me fumbling around trying to figure the characters out and what the story is. I find this frustrating because I have done some sort of an outline, spending days brainstorming about plot points only to have most of those thrown out the window when I sit down to write. Maybe it’s not a case of me telling myself the story but the characters telling me what the story is.

Finish It – This one piece of advice I believe is great, but also consider it something which could hamstring a writer. I believe it’s great because yes, you should try and finish every story. To quote Neil Gaiman, “You will learn more from a glorious failure then you will from something you have never finished.” Yes, yes you can. You can learn that maybe the concept, genre, length, characters, whatever, isn’t for you at that moment or even ever. You can learn where your deficiencies lie and learn to strengthen your skills. You can learn what your strengths are and play those up.

But at the same time it’s okay not to finish. We all have several unfinished short stories and novels lying around our computers. I myself have a few stories and a couple of novels that are nowhere near completion. My reasons for stopping boil down to either telling myself the idea is stupid (it probably isn’t) or I got bored. I think this is unbelievably common for writers at all levels. Sometimes people stop a project because they personally weren’t ready for it. This could mean emotionally, or felt their skill level wasn’t quite there, or life simply got in the way. And sometimes there are some projects that just need to be stopped and never looked at ever again.

Don’t Listen to the Noise – I can’t really attribute this to any specific person. I guess you could say this is my own piece of advice. I’m not being arrogant or all-knowing when I suggest distancing yourself from the “noise”. What I mean by “noise” is all the articles, interviews, conferences, and yes, blog posts, we are inundated with. I’m not suggesting you never read or listen to advice. We are lifelong learners and should be open to new ideas as well as knowing what’s going on in the publishing world.

But it can be overwhelming. When it starts affecting your writing, perhaps it’s time to turn away from the noise. It’s incredibly easy to spend hours reading and learning about the craft and business and completely forget to actually write. Or to be bogged down by paralyzing thoughts. Is my work is sellable? Is my main character is sympathetic and likeable enough? What will my critique partner or group going to think about this chapter? Do I suck? It’s not long before you find yourself staring at a blank screen or the bottom of a liquor bottle without one word written.

The trick for each writer becomes to learn when it is appropriate to let the noise in. It’s not while you are drafting or researching or when the kernel of an idea pops up and needs to be written down. I can’t tell you when the right time is because each person must figure it out.

You Don’t Have to Physically Write Everyday – “Ass in Chair” and “Write Everyday No Matter What” are phrases drilled into writers pretty much from the beginning. These phrases are intended to get across writing is not easy and takes a lot of work and dedication. Unfortunately I think it also creates this notion that if one doesn’t write every single day of their life, then you clearly aren’t dedicated enough and aren’t a real writer.

This simply isn’t true. Anne Rice stated in a combined interview with her son she writes when inspired while her son tends to write daily. Both approaches work. Think about musicians. Some write songs almost every day. Some write at the studio when told by the record label they want another album. Still others write when the muse hits then go to the studio to record when there’s enough material.

Writing is the same. Some people are great at cranking out words every single day. Others work best in flurries of inspiration. One isn’t inherently better or will lead to success quicker than the other will. Instead of feeling guilty about not writing every day, be comfortable with what you are able to do. If you want to increase your word count, great. Figure out how to squeeze in those extra words but don’t beat yourself up.

I’m also bothered by the idea it is better to force oneself to write on a day the words aren’t flowing than to not write at all. Maybe because I’m a perfectionist and am really, really hard of myself, but I personally feel better if I take a day or two off if my brain is fried. Forcing myself when is a disservice to the characters and story. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to force myself. I do try to write every day, but I’ve noticed when my brain is tapped it takes longer to get into the groove. When I do take a few days off, I have more energy to tackle the story.

Finally, just because you aren’t physically writing doesn’t mean you aren’t writing. What I mean is subconsciously your brain is always working. Ever wonder why in the middle of the night or in the shower you have a “Eureka!” moment around a plot point you’ve been stuck on for days? That’s your brain writing, if you will.

 

The biggest and best piece of advice I have ever seen is figure out what works for you. Your process will evolve. May change from story to story. Or maybe you hit gold and find a consistent, winning process. But writing is not something with one “right” path. Realize advice you thought was solid may no longer apply. Or you realize how silly it is. Also, don’t be in awe of who is giving the advice. Be okay with questioning it and disregarding it even if it came out of the mouth of your favorite author.

Advertisements
Musings

Weekly Musing: Useful Bloggery

Partially inspired by Writers’ Digest’s annual 101 Best Websites and to celebrate my blog’s 3rd anniversary, I thought I’d briefly talk about a few of the blogs I personally enjoy. When I first took writing seriously, I followed several blog in an attempt to absorb any and all information I could get my hands on. After a while my inbox became overrun with notifications of the latest blog postings and when I didn’t get to them right away, I got behind. Soon it became too overwhelming so I pared down what I subscribed to only those blogs I actually read. There truly can be too much of a good thing.

Below is a list I’ve narrowed down to my top three blogs I enjoy and find to be the most useful.

Anne R. Allen – I’ve probably been following this blog the longest having first heard about it via Writer’s Digest. This blog is almost always on that list and for good reason. With authors Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris at the helm, this site posts once a week a topic relevant to the publishing industry. While they and their guest bloggers are all seasoned, professional writers, I find many of their posts offer great advice for of all levels. What I like best is they don’t offer the typical advice given to writers, but rather more realistic advice. Not only do they offer advice on the craft but also touch upon all areas of writing and publishing. They keep up with the fact that the industry as a whole is always changing so they strive not to offer advice which may have been valid years ago before the rise of digital books.

What I really respond to the most with this blog is not only the humorous and down-to-earth writing style, but also how honest they are. It’s a perfect balance between encouragement and realism. Often Anne R. Allen’s blog has inspired blog posts of my own because I find them that thought-provoking especially on topics I thought I was in the minority in believing.

Chuck Wendig – This one is a recent discovery as I stumbled upon via a friend sharing one of his posts on Facebook. I’m glad I found it as Wendig’s blog is funny (the humor being NSFW which admittedly is up my alley) and honest. In the short amount of time I’ve been following Wendig’s blog, I’ve learned quite a bit as he has spoken upon a variety of topics ranging from conventions to publishing to life in general. He even posts writing challenges each week by incorporating a love of photography using his own photos to help inspire a flash fiction story.

Usually posting 2 to 3 a week, he somehow manages to stay consistent with the humor. Hell, even his guest bloggers are pretty adept at matching the tone and style while still sounding like their own person. Like the other blogs I follow, he brings realism and honesty to what he talks about and is the first person to admit that what his experiences aren’t the only way to go about being successful in publishing. His, like others, are just one example of one path to success.

Jami Gold – Another recent discovery, I quickly became a fan of hers because not only is she down-to-earth, she readily admits she’s a perfectionist. Recently this became a major problem as she talked about writers must take care of themselves. From her own experiences she tells her audience that she was running herself so ragged some serious health issues arose. But she kept pushing those aside due to numerous deadlines and to keep up with the expectations modern writers are told they must do in order to be successful. Eventually this caught up with her as she could no longer put off seeing the doctor as her vision became impaired.

But beyond her tales of running her body on empty for too long, I like she admits she’s a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is a really bad thing if you are a writer. Nothing you write will ever be good enough, no matter who tells you otherwise. It’s nice reading about a fellow perfectionist writer to see how she handles it. Also, while her recent health matters may seem extreme, it nevertheless serves as a cautionary tale about listening to every single piece of advice on how to become a “successful” writer.

 

In addition to the above mentioned blogs, I also enjoy Unusual Historicals (great for those who appreciate the underappreciated people and places of history), Writer Beware (which is more of a website, in my opinion, rather than a blog), Romance University (great advice for a writer of any genre), English Historical Fiction Authors (good source for inspiration), and Writers in the Storm (another great place for general advice).

With so much information out there it’s important to me to find those blogs which won’t waste my time. It’s also important to me to find the kind of information which will be helpful to me not only in this still early stage in my career, but as I continue to grow. And I hope that my little corner of the internet has mirrored my own growth as a writer over the past few years.