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Become a better writer by following this one weird tip

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by deilaitha, May 4, 2014.

  1. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    Every now and again, I feel like all of the writing advice out there is reminiscent of those ads you see on news websites...

    "Become a better writer by following this one weird tip"

    "The secret that successful writers don't want you to know"

    "Why popular authors are mad at the writing discovery of one stay-at-home mom"

    See, I have benefited from learning about writing rules, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's time I just stop reading about how to write and just, you know, write. I think I keep hoping that the more of these articles, books, etc., that I read, someday I'll magically vomit up a completely perfect manuscript. I'll emerge from this chrysalis as the most beautiful butterfly of a writer, stunning all with my talent and total awesomeness. The whole world would fall at my feet with laud...



    Yet, just as those internet snake oil ads are trying to provide a shortcut for something that hard work would supply, I wonder if my obsessive reading of writing tips is holding me back. Where do we balance the advice vs. execution? Regrettably, I probably read about writing more than I actually write.

    Does anyone else find themselves getting stuck in this trap?
    AudaciousVagabond likes this.
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I think there's a difference between knowing the advice and understanding what they're trying to tell you. To me, it feels as if there really aren't that many really important "rules" for writing out there. They're all just presented in different way by different people.
    Once you've heard the advice a few times it's time to write and to apply the advice to your writing. When you're done writing you show your work to someone and they point out all the issues with it. You talk it over, get some advice and then start writing again. Rinse and repeat.

    The advise will tell you what direction to go, but they won't walk you there.
    AudaciousVagabond and Penpilot like this.
  3. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    Writing is no different from any other had job. It doesn't get done until you do it. The problem is that at no point during the possess do you know if you are doing it right.

    They need to make a robot that attempt to write Best Selling novels.
  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I've posted this before...


    But, seriously, I've been writing for a very, very long time - with my partner for over 20 years, and for quite a long time even before then. Do I know what I'm doing by now? Yes. Do I read the articles and the books? Yeah, I really do. The reason? Because you learn something new every day, and it never hurts anyone to be reminded even of the basics.

    Don't stop reading about your craft. Do sit your butt down and practice it. Reading about writing without actually writing won't do anyone any good - especially not your future readers. And especially not you.
  5. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    R.A. Salvatore* once gave me this advice as his top piece of advice for all new writers:

    "Shut up and write."

    *(We live in the same town for the five people who haven't seen me post that fact twenty-something times already.)
    deilaitha and Julian S Bartz like this.
  6. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Well said.
  7. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Rule One: Become a better writer by following this one wierd rule - Write!

    In the end that is the one thing that matters. And I'll throw in another piece of advice today since I'm sitting here feeling smug!

    Rule Two: The best book you can read to help you become a better writer is the one you're writing!

    Seriously - no one can teach you how to write. No one but you. And the best way to teach yourself is to do it, then take that work out and get it peer reviewed. Rewrite, rinse and repeat, and when you've done enough iterations and had enough opinion that you think you know what you're doing, get it edited. Then the final step - publish and read the reviews. Then start writing again.

    Cheers, Greg.
    deilaitha likes this.
  8. Ruby

    Ruby Auror

    Hi deilaitha, in order to write I find you simply require a beginning, a muddle and an end!
    deilaitha and A. E. Lowan like this.
  9. KellyB

    KellyB Minstrel

    This is exactly like me! I've been reading about writing for literally years now. I've read e-books, blog posts, forum posts, visited websites, listened to countless podcasts, etc. but I've barely ever written anything. I start to write something, then my inner perfectionist beats me over the head, and I stop and delete it. My main problem being that I keep expecting the perfect plot and characters to jump out of nowhere and land in my brain.

    But just this past month, I've made a conscious effort to change this. I've decided to be more open about my writing. I've created a blog about my writing, in an effort to gain some accountability. If I post my writing goals, I will feel the need to actually accomplish something, lest I embarrass myself. My next step will be to post some of my writing in the showcase forum for some feedback. That's something I've never done before, to actually let someone read my writing. Wish me luck!

    And good luck to you as well. If I can do it, you can too. (Disclaimer: I've only written the first scene so far, but hey, it's a start.) ;)
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I put together a big list of writing articles on a feedly account . . . but I can't really bring myself to spend time doing more than Mythic Scribes. Here you see the writing advice, commentary on said advice, and you're forced to put your own thoughts together when you engage with other members. That interaction is far more valuable than an article you might read. They all start to seem repetitive before too long.

    And the vast majority of the advice is rubbish. And I don't mean that it's bad advice. I mean that it's basic, dime-a-dozen beginner tips. Show, don't tell. Avoid passive voice. It's all about character. That's great. But you can read that kind of advice all day long for a year and you'll still be nowhere. It doesn't help you make progress with character arcs, being more creative, pacing your plot, or really much of anything that matters. There are people who try to help with these elements, and you should look for it, as it's the kind of advice that will help you make progress just by reading advice.

    For the most part, you would be better to limit your advice-reading and spend more time writing. And if you really want advice to help you be a better writer, here it is:

    - Eat right.
    - Work out.
    - Take care of your emotional well being.
    - Engage your mind every day.
    - Find a purpose behind what you're doing.
    - Bond with people with whom you can hold yourself accountable.

    Do that, and you'll be a much better writer.
    deilaitha likes this.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    From my personal experience, the way to use these numerous lists of rules out there is not to use them like a check list of all the things you have to do. The way I would suggest to use them is, treat each as a new tool in the tool box to be toyed with, but don't immediately expect 100% understanding of how it should be used and when.

    Then don't worry about these "rules". If you remember to use them, fine, but otherwise, just write. When you edit and come across problems, take a look into your trusty tool box and try some of the tools in there on for size. See how they help or don't. This is why I think people recommend writing short stories. It allows you to quickly play with a lot of different tools and tell a bunch of complete and varied stories, while learning to deal with lots of different problems that come up instead of getting stuck on one story and one problem.

    Soon you'll learn how to use certain tools, and I think that's where the transition from knowledge to wisdom starts.

    I find that these lists talk about mostly the same things, just expressed and labelled different, based on the creator of the list's personal preferences and biases. I've read lots of writing books. After a while I've noticed that most cover the exact same ground but it's seen through a different lens. This can help in understanding, because sometimes a thing explained by one person may not make sense, but when it's explained by different person, it becomes obvious and easily understood. But other than that, it's nothing ground breaking.

    For myself, the moment I stopped obsessing about rules was the moment I started to really improve. Don't conform yourself to the "rules". Conform the "rules" to you. Adapt them into your process instead of the other way around.
    deilaitha and A. E. Lowan like this.
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I know I pimp this out all the time it seems, but Writers' Work (http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-groups/11425-writers-work-clocking-your-time.html) has helped me and others become more accountable if that's what someone needs to progress.

    That said, the advice you posted will help people in many ways, but it's not what people want to hear sometimes. They want to hear quick fixes for problems like these:

    1. My story is cliche.
    2. My writing is not interesting to me.
    3. My plot is muddy.
    4. My characters are boring.
    5. My world-building needs more work.
    6. I'm not selling enough books and need to know how to sell more.
    7. I don't know how to make legit fans through social media.
    8. I need to learn how to brand myself.
    9. I can't decide on whether to choose traditional or self-publishing.

    That's why so much writing advice and blogs focus on these kind of topics because these are things people seem to have difficulty figuring out. For good reason, too. The biggest problem is I could give this advice...

    If you want to make your plot more cohesive, use the scene/sequel approach. It helps you build proactive and reactive scenes.

    ...and I could get this response...

    That makes your writing too formulaic. I rather have a more organic way of doing it.

    The issue is, any one "fix" for a problem is not going to be a catch-all that works for everyone. People like to hear what they think they want to hear. Hell, I work the same way. If I'm a beginning writer and my world-building is clunking along, I'm not going to think, "I should really read more books with good world-building" or "Perhaps I should change my lifestyle to make it easier for me to brainstorm." I'm going to type in "world-building fantasy novels" on Google and see what comes up. It's like using Fix-a-Flat for your tire. It works temporarily, but eventually the air leaks out and you've got a flat tire again. You come back to the same problem of having weak world-building because all you did was read some advice about how to make it better instead of using it in practice. So yeah, I do think advice for beginners is helpful, but only if they use it and know why they're using it. I think the only way to do that is to be writing and reading books that do it well (using your interpretation of what is done "well" because my version and your version is always going to be different).

    So I think Devor's advice is good if you want to really change your lifestyle as a writer and not just patch up a problem.
  13. Julian S Bartz

    Julian S Bartz Minstrel

    I think although most of the articles and books you read cover the same ground it can be handy to be reminded of tips. As with everything you can hear it once or twice and slowly forget it over time. Reading an article once and a while can jog your memory.

    And as has been said you need to actually write. That is the best way to learn. Assuming you have all the basics down. EG, grammar and formatting. Write 100,000 words and you will learn more than reading 10 books on how to write.
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Everyone has said it: just write. My own slogan, adopted years ago, is this: anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

    As far as the "just write" advice goes, I have to add a couple more steps.

    Write *and complete* something. Then, get it read by others. Then, get it read by a professional (editor or agent).

    Then do it again ten or twenty times.

    Then go back and read all those advice columns, if you're still so inclined.

    I did fall into the trap of reading about writing more than I was actually writing. I still read them, but as someone else said, I get more practical advice here on Mythic Scribes than anywhere else. I do watch out for one thing, though. I read the titles carefully. If they're posed as a question, I don't waste my time. If they are a list (top N things to do), I don't waste my time. This includes the One Trick articles. Every once in a blue moon, the advice is sincerely given, but mostly these are standard strategies for driving traffic. They are the equivalent of yellow journalism headlines.

    I have grown extremely jealous of my time.
    Writeking likes this.
  15. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    Years ago I used to have this delicious daydream that the great novel I knew I had within me might just magically appear when I snapped my fingers.

    What a disaster it would have been if that daydream came true. I'm sure the OP already knows this but the journey of planning, writing and finishing your first novel...no matter how crap you later decide it to be...is one of life's most profoundly uplifting experiences.

    Looking back at my first novel, I sometimes cringe with embarrassment at its purple prose and general try-too-hard ambience...but by god it was exhilarating. Living in the world of the novel for the last two months of writing it was by far the most incredible writing experience I've had...and I've since had three books published and am a thousand times the writer I was back then.

    You have to write to learn how to write.
    deilaitha likes this.
  16. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    Two rules:

    1. Write
    2. Don't not write

    I spend most of my time breaking these rules and Stephen King does not. I rest my case.
    Writeking and deilaitha like this.
  17. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    The best advice I've found isn't advice - its just knowing how other writers write. Then I can take from it what I like.
    One of the best from this was really about script writing - but its totally transferable. Its:

    Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T. Davies
    Publisher: BBC Books (14 Jan 2010)
    ISBN-10: 184607861X
    ISBN-13: 978-1846078613

    If you haven't read it I can recommend it heartily.
    It doesn't tell you how to write - it tells you how he writes and the process he goes through - with examples of how and why he changes the script as he goes along.

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