Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Why New Writers Give Writing Advice

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.

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

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.

When Good Writing Advice Goes Bad

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:

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

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:

  1. At the top of the page, write what you want to accomplish in the scene, for example:  Maximilian professes his undying adoration to Veronica, who laughs at him.  Sets up story problem to be solved.  Introduces Veronica’s assistant Jasmine.  Imagery of balloons starts here, repeated throughout the story.  Mood in the scene goes from Maximilian’s excitement to his disappointment.  (Read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k for more about this)
  2. Write in a different mode: break out the pen and paper and wonder how your handwriting got so bad since your high school days, or take it to the streets and do some dictation.  Personally, going longhand works for me.  The movement of writing helps me build up momentum.  I haven’t done much with dictation, but Kevin J. Anderson is a big proponent of it.
Photograph by Rebeca Saray

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

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.

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

Photograph by Rebeca Saray

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.

My Only Piece of Writerly Advice

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

5 comments on “Why New Writers Give Writing Advice

  1. ericjbaker
    August 10, 2015

    I like to share ideas about writing (because writing talk draws readers), but the only real advice I have is to practice practice practice. I happen to be the binge writer you described above, so PPP doesn’t mean “write everyday on a schedule” in my world. It means I look for things that inspire me and, when they do, blast away.

    • tracycembor
      August 11, 2015

      Very good point that talking about writing can also grow your readership!

      I certainly didn’t mean that writers shouldn’t talk about writing. I love the openness of our community for new writers to find their footing.

      After some personal experiences where I realized I was following advice to my detriment, I wanted to raise awareness of how and why writers consume and apply advice. Individually we need to know where we are on the writing path so we can determine what will benefit each of us.

      And now I’m off for some of that recommended practice! ;)

      • ericjbaker
        August 11, 2015

        Sometimes I do feel a bit fraudulent dishing advice on fiction writing, considering I am so remarkably unsuccessful at it :)

        I’ve reached the point where I feel like writing advice will no longer help me (especially given the contradictory nature of it). My prose is fine. I simply have to write something people want to read.

  2. Jenn Andrew - Femme VIP
    August 23, 2015

    This is a good article. Thanks for checking my blog

  3. samurainovelist
    August 28, 2015

    I don’t see amateur writing advice as fraudulent. When I was a young man living in rural Japan, I had to wait a month for my copy of Strunk & White. Writing advice was hard to come by. Today I can learn in two hours what took me all of my teen years to acquire. It is quite helpful, and it does no more harm than free advice on other hobbies. I can dispense what I know about carving netsuke or cooking a lasagna and some people would find it helpful. The carving and cooking advice I found on the internet has served me well. Writing is no different. If you want professional mentoring, you should pay for it. I appreciate the writing advice I find on the net. Otherwise I wouldn’t read it.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on August 10, 2015 by in What I Learned and tagged , , , , , , .

Of Days and Weeks

August 2015
« Jul   Sep »

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
%d bloggers like this: