Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
Before we go any further, I want to say that I’m as guilty of this as anyone else on the planet. Go ahead, look at my posts from three years ago (or even better, don’t look at them and spare us both the embarrassment). ;) Any time I found some writerly advice, I shared it around like I’d just discovered fire.
First, I think it’s great that writers are always sharing tips and tricks with other writers. Unlike a lot of hobbies and professions, writing has felt accessible at the entry level. (I’ll save my opinions about writing on the top end for another post.) There’s lots of free advice from pros, semi-pros, and hobbyists all over the internets. Just go to Youtube and type in “writing advice” or “how to write” and you’ll see what I mean.
When I find something that clicks with me, I share it with everyone who will listen. Frankly, I’ve gotten nearly evangelical about a few things in the past, mostly about a writer’s (self) education and about self-publishing. These things resonate with me, but maybe not with you. Whatever you read, think about if it really applies to you as you are right now and what kind of writer you want to be.
Writers want to share what works for them, those tools that helped them make that breakthrough, what took their writing to the next level. We really want to help others reach the summit and have the same positive experience we had.
As a new writer, the desire to be part of the conversation is also a factor. I like talking about the grammar dragons I’ve slain and connect with people just like me. It’s a way of signalling to other writers that you’re part of their tribe. It’s about shared interests and shared experiences.
But all advice isn’t a good fit for everyone all the time. My advice, once posted, is static, but the people reading it are in different stages of writership, and no two authors lined up at the starting point either. When I give advice from my side, no matter how well-intentioned, I cannot know the context in which it is being read. It could potentially do as much harm as good. Here’s a few examples:
Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard – For most people, this is good advice. The reality is that if you don’t sit down and write, nothing will actually get written. If you want to write but never get anything accomplished, it’s a good place to start. However, this often-trotted-out dogma lacks the tools to help an aspiring writer get those words on the page. It’s like telling a driver’s ed student to put their hands on the steering wheel and drive. The road, or the blank page, is in front of them, but they don’t know how to bridge the gap.
I don’t want to leave you hanging with this, so I’ll tell you two tools I use:
Write Every Day – Again, the writing doesn’t happen by itself, and setting up a routine works for a lot of people, but not everyone. Some people are binge writers and get words onto the page in large chunks at irregular intervals. It also doesn’t take into account the realities of life. Sure, many people can carve out an hour of TV time or snoozing in the AM for writing, but many of us already have a full schedule.
I had to admit to myself when I had a baby who wasn’t sleeping through the night, a preschooler who kept me busy during the day, a fulltime job, and other personal obligations that maybe writing every day wasn’t achievable at this point in my life. I needed to find the minutes I could, sure, but I wasn’t getting enough sleep or time for myself. Subtracting from those few hours would have been unhealthy, so my reality was to be patient and do what I could. I had to tell myself that it was okay to not write every day. Otherwise, the guilt would have torn me apart.
Write What You Know – If you’re a beginning writer and don’t know what to write about, it’s a good place to start with what you know. Live in the South? Write about the South! Work in a bakery? Write about a bakery! But if you just went through a yucky relationship, telling someone to write about it could be toxic or cathartic, and either way venting about drama doesn’t often make for good reading. Additionally, unless I’m a rocket scientist, my qualifications for writing science fiction are slim. Writing fantasy looks even bleaker because I’ve never met a dragon or unicorn or fairy, and the little girls who take my sweet, delicious chocolate away from me in October don’t count.
And lets toss in the thought about Writing the Other, which means writing from a different perspective than your own, be it gender, race, socioeconomic status, species, or ice cream sunday preference. (Ice cream is serious business.) Writing from a different worldview can be amazing if it is done in the right way for the right reasons, and I wouldn’t tell anyone not to try it. Do some research. Get a good beta reader or three. Don’t limit your writing because you want to do something new but it involves something you don’t know.
The one piece of advice I would still give everyone is to continue educating yourself. Join a forum or writing group. Read a book or listen to a podcast. Do some research on what is going on in the publishing world or writing contest circuit. Hone your craft or elevate your business savvy.
“I want to grow. I want to be better. You grow. We all grow. We’re made to grow. You either evolve or you disappear.” ― Tupac Shakur
Take five minutes to think about what you want to improve with your writing. Make a list, then figure out the steps to achieve that goal.
Go ahead, it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. That’s the crazy thing about learning that we forget, if we can do it perfectly the first time, the we didn’t really grow from the process. Do something to educate your writer self just like you would your school self, your work self, and your spiritual self. You might be pleasantly surprised what happens. :D