Everyone, it seems, has advice for writers. Writing blogs and workshops are filled with it. Books are written about it. Writing groups trade tips and ‘rules’ about every aspect of the process. It’s particularly telling that these pearls of wisdom invariably come from other writers. I can’t think of a single editor who ever imparted one to me. Maybe they realize that there’s a lot more bad advice being bandied about than good. A few examples:
–Real writers outline. If that’s the case, even though I’m working on my fortieth book, I’m not a real writer. Because I am physically and mentally outline-impaired. My brain doesn’t work that way. Believe me, I’ve tried. There were a few years when I was a newbie and went to a few workshops that convinced me that I was doing it *wrong* because I wasn’t plotting the story before writing it. So I tried. I filled out charts and wrote long copious synopses of things that might happen. And then…I never looked at them again while I wrote the book the way I wanted to. The truth is, there is no one way to write. Everyone has their own process. And while we may streamline it along the way, adding and discarding pieces as we find what works for us, each writing process is unique to the individual, as it should be.
–Prologues are bad. There’s been a long-running battle about whether or not prologues are necessary. The consensus seems to be that whatever is included in it could be placed somewhere in the story. I disagree. I love prologues; a good one whets my appetite for what’s to come. But I agree that they shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. I utilize one when the information contained in it can’t be easily or fluidly incorporated into the story.
–Never read in the genre you’re writing, or you’ll end up incorporating some of that book into your novel. Um…what??? Do people really believe that we pick up details and style through osmosis and unconsciously regurgitate it back into our work-in-progress? I’m baffled by this one.
–Write every day. I’m convinced that people who advise this don’t have a life. Or a family and job. People talk about how they record storylines as they sit in traffic, or get up early to write before the rest of the family rises. Again, everyone needs to find a schedule that works for them. I would massage the advice to this: make time to write. Every day there are plenty of reasons *not* to. Carve out time that is yours. Life has a way of interfering, so writing every day is not always feasible. I do best when I set a certain number of pages to be written every week, and then figure out my schedule so I can hit my goal.
–Good writers don’t get writer’s block. I call BS on this. Everyone at some point stares at that blinking cursor and wonders what comes next. What’s important is for each writer to learn how to work through it. For me, a surefire way to untangle a gnarled plot line is to move. I go for a walk or jump on the treadmill while I mull over the problem, and nearly always arrive at a solution. AND I burn some calories. Win-win! The trick is discovering what unlocks your personal plot impediment.
Rather than learning a bunch of half-baked how-to rules, writers simply need to learn what works for them. A few of my writing truths include:
–Set a weekly page goal and write as much as I need to hit it. Since I’m the queen of procrastination, I do best when I allow myself some flexibility. I measure my productivity in words on the page, not hours spent writing.
–Start the book in the right place. In my genre that usually means beginning where everything changes (or is about to change) for my characters.
–Use text-to-speech to catch errors. It’s tedious and time-consuming, but I’ve found no better way to edit. I write extremely fast, and although I read through my most recent chapter as I start writing for the day, I grow ‘word blind’ and tend to read what I think I wrote rather than how I actually wrote it. Utilizing the text-to-speech option is ideal for picking up repeated or omitted words.
–Finish the book. I know a lot of aspiring authors who have started–and discarded–a dozen stories. I understand beginning one and realizing that the attempt is so flawed it’d be better to start over, but for a true writing experience, one has to complete the book from the first page to the last. Anyone can start a novel when the idea is shiny and new. The real test is slogging through the middle when things get thorny and figuring out a way to reach the conclusion.
–Be a ruthless editor. I tend to write long and always strive to tighten up the story as I edit it. It improves the pacing of my plot, and is always humbling to realize how many words can be cut and not alter the thread of the plot.
The only writing advice that really matters is: Write. Re-write. Repeat.