Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Best Writing Advice I Never Took...And Some That I Did

When I started writing (which wasn't really all that long ago), I did what I usually do when faced with a new situation--I research it to death. Which means that I found a lot of writing "advice."

Some of it was better than others. Turns out, though, I'm not so good at taking advice.

1. Get a critique partner:
I tried. I did. Really. I went to a lot of groups to try to find a critique partner, but I never really found anyone who clicked.

And then I had an agent and more confidence, and then I moved two states away, and then I got busy, so...  I have some people I swap work with now, but I've never done the formal trade-stuff-every-month thing with anything. The last book I wrote went to my favorite beta reader and then off to my agent. And I think that's okay, for now.

2. The Three Act Structure: Your book needs three acts. Things need to happen in those acts. By certain pages. Save the cat, dammit!!

Here's the thing, because I studied literature for so long, reading those handy-dandy "How to Write a Book" books never really worked for me. Sure, they have snappy titles like, "How to Build a Plot from Hairpins and Twine," and "Character: It's Like Real People, but Different," but as much as I tried to read them, it didn't work.

Besides, I think once you've read Ulysses, you get a pass, you know?

Which isn't to say they aren't helpful to some people, but the idea of a three act structure where things have to happen by certain places? Yeah... That doesn't work for me. I tend to come up with weird, interlocking stories, and while the plot is there and the different points (rising action, climax, falling action, etc.) are still there, thinking about them in such a mechanical way just didn't work for me.

3. Write Every Day: 

Look, I get it. Writing every day helps you hone your dedication and your overall skill as a writer. It gets you in a routine and keeps you in the story. There are days I do write every day. Those are good days. But I'm kind of a write-in-a-random-burst kind of writer. When I know the story, it comes fast and I can write and write and write. When I'm still plotting, or when I don't know where I'm going, writing just screws me up.

I did NaNoWriMo once. It was fabulous! I wrote every day. I wrote 70k words, and that book is going to get published in 2016 by Simon Pulse, but that book was such a mess because I forced myself through instead of slowing down to think that it took almost 2 years to get my head around the revision.

Which isn't to say I just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

But there are weeks, sometimes months that I don't write. I read. I refill the well. I think. I go out and live.

All of which is to say, for as much "advice" as there is out there, you've got to find your own way. Which means, you have to know your strengths and your weaknesses. You have to be able to admit that you need help in certain areas, and have the confidence to know when your instincts are right.

So, tell me-- what advice did you find helpful, or unhelpful?


  1. Yep on #2. I do have writerly dedication and try to be present for the muse almost every day. But some days that means blog posts, are communing with friends on Twitter, or research. It's okay to take a day off now and then and refill the well.

  2. I agree with #3 too, although sometimes my breaks are too long. Not writing is so much easier than writing.

    1. I feel the exact same way. But sometimes by not writing, I start craving the writing, and everything flows that much easier :O)