The Best and Worst Writing Advice

Last night I happened to be perusing my “business” Twitter account (@JGarvAuthor) and I came across a hashtag discussion. This one was #10MinNovelists. Apparently, this is a discussion that happens every so often between writers, a weekly Twitter chat hosted by K Grubb or @10MinNovelist. This week, in particular, she was opening up the feed for everyone to ask questions. You simply had to tweet with “Raises hand” and then ask you a question.

Some of the discussions were asking if anyone could sum up their current project in the length of a tweet, (which I tried and failed miserably). It was pretty cool reading through some of these brief descriptions though. It just reminded me of the advice that I got that every idea has been done but not every idea has been done in my voice. I saw quite a few descriptions that sounded like they could somewhat be in one of those cliche categories I had mentioned in my “lists blog“.

I took the opportunity to “raise my hand” and ask for the best writing advice anyone had received. I didn’t get many responses, but I do believe K Grubb ended up asking it again towards the end of the discussion. The very first response to mine was probably my favorite bit of advice that I’ve heard since I first wanted to become a writer.

Something so simple and yet it seems it’s the one piece of advice I tend to ignore. After getting stuck in a rut and flat out ignoring my story for so long, I felt the only thing I could do to get back into the swing of things was to go back and try editing it. And honestly, it did help spark some more ideas. I realized that my original end game wasn’t where I wanted to take the story and had to do rework a few things to set the story heading in the right direction. BUT…this is still the single most important advice I have ever received and the only advice I ever feel comfortable giving to others. Even when it comes to blogging. Just write and write, let the words flow through you. Then go back and read what you wrote and edit it if needed. I’ve always done this with needing to write emails or letters as well. If you are constantly trying to edit or censor yourself when expressing yourself, are you truly expressing your truths?

Another amazing response I got was the one above. “Ignore fear. Keep going.” I swear these people must know me. This is another prime example of something I have been struggling with. Again I point out that in my “lists” blog I was struggling with the fear of failing. The fear that my story wasn’t going to be original. That I would be chastised for my lack of creativity. I feel like ignoring fear fits perfectly with the previous advice of just keep writing. It just takes it a step further in reminding you to face your fears. Something that us fantasy writers incorporate into our stories all the time. If finishing my first draft is my dragon, will I turn and run away at the first sight of flames or will a pull up my shield, draw my sword, and push forward to slay that damn dragon?

This one made me laugh. I have actually heard this advice elsewhere. I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly where I heard it previously. I do know that Hemingway supposedly said it, although there is speculation. I think the real advice here is to allow yourself to let go of inhibitions the way alcohol lets you do. This is just another example of the “just keep writing” and “ignore fear” advice. Let the writing side of you “stay drunk on writing so that reality doesn’t destroy you” (Ray Bradbury). And then slip back into reality in order to edit that writing.

Write what you love. Easy enough advice to follow. If you don’t have a passion for what you are writing then your readers won’t be passionate about reading what you wrote. It’s that simple. I have read books that seemed to be forced attempts to just get it done. Some started off so very promising and halfway through just lost me. As if they maybe had someone pushing them to finish but the drive just wasn’t there. And then I’ve also read books that were just so slow and dry that it felt like chewing overdone meat without a drop to drink. These are the last things I want someone to say about my writing. I am in love with my characters, I am passionate about my world. I think about that every time I sit down to write. I want my readers to be so engulfed in my writing that they don’t want the journey to end.

I spoke on the other part of the advice in a previous blog, setting a difficult daily word goal. I have a love/hate relationship with this advice. Previously, I compared this to being on a diet. More specifically to counting calories. If you get too hung up on numbers, you can be setting yourself up for failure. I much prefer setting a time limit. It also works better for my life. I can tell my husband that I am going to take an hour alone to write and set a timer. If I sit and give it my best for that hour, when the timer goes off I know that I’ve accomplished something. Sometimes it might be a hundred words, or more or less. The point behind this method is to set time to write and actually follow through. I think I also prefer the time limit instead of the word limit because sometimes I can surprise myself. I set a time limit for how long I will work on my blogs. There are days where the words just aren’t coming to me and although that can make me feel a little discouraged I can at least see that I’m putting the effort in. And on the flip side, there are days where I sit down for an hour and I write something meaningful and in depth. That’s the whole point of writing right?

So all and all, the Twitter discussion was neat. I love seeing authors come together in their own community. It’s something that I never really knew existed until I stumbled across the Mythic Scribes forum. I guess maybe I kind of knew it existed based on when I first started my Twitter account but actually seeing everyone be so supportive of each other is awesome. No one is (at least openly) competing against each other. In a way that seems pretty pointless. Two people can’t really knowingly write the same book. Tell two completely different people to write a story about, I don’t know, a princess and a monkey. Do you think they are going to write the same thing? Nope.

Seeing all the great advice started me thinking about any not so great advice that has been given.

This is one tweet I really liked. We are all different people and we have different writing styles. We have different personalities and those personalities affect how we do pretty much everything in our lives. Some of us are very organized and some of us fly by the seat of our pants. For some of us, making outlines and doing tons of research before sitting down to write helps guide us in the direction we want to go. Others just sit down and write, and maybe do research as they go. They might choose to go back after writing their first draft and only then write their outline as a way to better understand what they’ve written.

This is another example of what I would consider bad advice. The “write what you know” part. I think Janet Flora Corso said it perfectly with saying it’s “too limiting”. It absolutely is. I also would like to point out that we KNOW nothing of dragons and elves and fairies. These are wonderful and made up things. And they can be whatever you want them to be. When I first wrote about “Pia the Wonder Pixie” I didn’t know much about the fantasy genre. I just wrote. And now expanding upon the idea I have had to do a fair amount of research. If I were to write about what I know my novel would be pretty boring.

There is an endless amount of advice out there. Some great, some meh, and some just plain bad. I think the most important thing to remember is to just keep going. Don’t quit. Find support when you need it. Set goals and stick to them. And ignore the naysayers.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? What about the worst?


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