Tag Archives: writing advice

Writing advice to take with a grain of salt

As a writer, I rub shoulders (virtually) with lots of other writers. On Facebook I’ll often see quotes from people like Stephen King, or Hemingway and others. Inspirational stuff. I think. But sometimes advice needs to be weighed and measured before it’s blindly believed. Here are a few I’ve encountered.

Read lots

Really? Oh, I don’t doubt you’ve read heaps of books. So have I – both for pleasure and as part of my university degree. Piles and piles, heaps of books. But reading doesn’t make you a writer. My husband is a voracious reader – and I do mean voracious. He isn’t a particularly fast reader, but he would go through a book or two a week. The prospect of him writing a book? Somewhere between Buckley’s and none. Reading may lead you to writing, reading may provide you with knowledge about a particular genre, it may cause you to think that you could write a better book yourself. But reading does not make you a writer.

Do more writing courses

How many have you done? Lots or none at all? I’ve done a few. But at the end of the day, all you’re doing is training up for the real event. Would I suggest people do writing courses? Absolutely. Then go away and think about what you learned and how you might want to apply that knowledge (if at all). Writing courses are subjective, in a way that (say) basic physics is not. You can learn Newton’s three laws of motion – and if you’re writing science fiction, that’s not a bad idea. They are facts, just as 1 + 1 = 2. But writing courses will teach you how a certain person thinks the job should be done. Do you think Shakespeare, or Dickens, or Tolkien, did a writing course? You might as well have done lots of reading (see above).

Take lots of editorial advice

So you’ve written the first chapter of your masterpiece and you take it along to the local writers’ group for comment. Or, in this electronic age, you post it to to Authonomy or some other, similar, group. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a necessary step along the way. Float your little paper boat and see how long before it sinks. Some will say they love it, some will say they hate it. Whose advice do you take? If you’ve done the writing courses, you’ll recognise others who have done the same courses. But beware, take care before you take advice from people who don’t read the genre, or people who haven’t read the whole book. Consider opinions by all means, but don’t turn your book into a hippogriff by trying to pander to everyone’s whims.

It’s cool to collect rejection slips

Sure, it’s part of the process. But you know what? It doesn’t happen to everybody. I have a writer friend who sent the synopsis and first three chapters of her first book to five well-respected agents. Within two (2) weeks she had a contract for three (3) books, with a six-figure advance. The other four agents passed – but she didn’t much care. Sure, I know some will paper their office with rejection slips. It might be smarter to think about why you’re getting so many? Have you targeted the wrong agents/publishers? Do your queries stack up? And then (um) is your book any good?

Your work is good enough to publish

Maybe it is. If you’ve been through rigorous quality control. That’s what it is, really, getting a book ready for publishing – even if it’s self publishing. Find out if people enjoyed the read – and I don’t mean the people who will love anything you do, including those sausages you burnt at the last family barbie. That’s where critique groups are useful if you can find people prepared to read the whole book and give you fair comment. If they say the ending’s weak or there’s lots of loose ends that go nowhere, maybe you need to reconsider your plot. But for now, let’s assume that’s not necessary. A professional edit from someone who knows what they’re doing is still a very good idea. So is copy editing. Remember that husband I mentioned? The one that reads a lot? He’s no academic, but he knows ‘drug’ or ‘drugged’ is not the past tense of the verb ‘to drag’. He knows the difference between their, there and they’re. If you write “apple’s”, he’ll wonder “apple’s what?” If you don’t understand all of these, go and learn English.

So what do you think? What other “advice” would cause you to pause and think?

Writing as paint-by-numbers

Creative Commons Wikipedia

Creative Commons Wikipedia

Everybody’s got a novel in them, so they say. And as I’ve mentioned before, the novel writing business has become an industry in its own right. Everywhere you look you’ll find another course on how to come up with plots, write convincing characters, create a scene that ‘hooks’, edit your book so that every word counts. Writers blog about ‘how to’, things you should do, things you shouldn’t. What your novel must have to sell. Books have been written on how to market, how to sell, how to use the internet to create your ‘brand’. And so it goes. I wouldn’t say all of this is useless; far from it. I’ve done quite a few courses, read a few ‘how to’ books. But you know, I think the danger is that a novel can become over-engineered.

I wonder if Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Jules Verne or more modern well-known authors like McCaffrey, Asimov, Stephanie Meyers and J.K. Rowling ever took much notice of ‘theme’ or ending every scene with the MC worse off. I don’t have to ask about Tolkien. He made his position very clear – he wanted to try his hand at writing a very long story that would entertain.

Let me give you an analogy. I would have loved to have been good at painting. I had a certain limited talent but (let’s face it) I wasn’t very good. That’s okay. I’m good at lots of other stuff. In the art world, though, I resorted to a few ‘paint by number’ kits. You know what I mean. A ‘real’ artist has created a painting of something (let’s say a horse) and the kit you buy shows the outline of the horse and its surroundings on a canvas and then various shapes are drawn, each with a number in them. You get a couple of paint brushes and little jars of paint, each with a number corresponding to the numbers on the canvas. And away you go. You carefully colour in each little shape and end up with a recognisable horse. But it isn’t art. Sure, you could improve your input by mixing the colours and blending them together, so it’s not so obviously a colour-in. That’s what it is, though – a colour-in.

I did one year of English at university. I’d always enjoyed writing and reading and I thought I’d enjoy English lit. But I very soon discovered that the profs weren’t interested in MY opinion of the books we were given to read. I was supposed to go off and regurgitate what other learned folk had to say about them. I walked away because I didn’t care. I don’t analyse books I read. I read for entertainment. And nobody can tell me I have to read Dickens if I don’t want to, if I find his style overblown, if I can’t relate to his characters. On the other hand, I LOVED Tolkien, even if his style was narrative and he went off into tangents that didn’t relate to the overall story.

I’d take a guess that among those hugely successful authors it wasn’t only Tolkien who ‘just wanted to write a story’. I fear that if we all go along with the ‘template for novels’ approach we’ll lose our spontaneity, even our creativity. Yes, I guess this is yet another rant about the Rules of Writing. Follow them slavishly and you have a paint by numbers kit.

I’m very interested to know what others think.