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Writing tips that stuck with you

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Waz, Jan 29, 2015.

  1. Waz

    Waz Scribe

    I've heard and read a lot of great writing advice, and occasionally simple statements have a big impact on me. How about you? Any words of wisdom that continue to influence how you write?

    I'l give 2.

    #1: "Learn to love rewriting." I have no idea why I even remember this statement, and it's an even greater mystery why it completely changed how I view the hard slog of rewriting.

    Editing always seemed like such a chore, a necessary evil that doesn't advance the story. Somehow that statement, and that class in general, lit a fire in me to view editing as a different kind of creativity.

    #2: "Every overnight success takes at least 7 years." 'Nuff said.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I've read tons of advice, but none of it seems to stand by my chair while I'm writing. I read the stuff, nod or shake my head, then promptly forget it.

    There's one that has stuck. It's not a big one, nothing profound, but it sticks. I don't even remember who made that comment, except that it was a published author. He (it was a he) said that when he was editing one of his stories he realized a section dragged because he was "walking his characters" to the next scene. As soon as I read it, I realized I was doing that. Something happens at Point A and something happens at Point B, but that doesn't mean I have to walk my characters from A to B.

    I know. I told it you wasn't profound.

    The only other thing I'll offer here isn't advice, but it's experience. I have come to realize that my first draft of a story is me telling the story to me. I have to explain all kinds of things to myself because I don't know the story yet. When I do the first major edit, I consciously shift my perspective, trying to be conscious that I'm telling the story to someone else. Quite a bit gets cut that way.

    Sorry, that was rather more of a ramble than I'd meant it to be.
  3. Tom

    Tom Istar

    The best piece of writing advice was the one I got from my mom:

    "Write what you don't know."

    I think I was about twelve or so, and this very well-meaning but misguided person advised me to write realistic fiction instead of fantasy--their reasoning being that you should "write what you know". So I was all upset and asked my mom about it, and she looked at me and told me that I should write what I don't know--because, she explained, that's where you learn who you are as a person and a writer. It allows you to explore and nurture your curiosity.

    Then, being my lovable Irish-tempered mom, she went off on a rant about that person having clearly never heard of Narnia or LoTR...

    Someone also told me once to write every day--no matter what kind of day I was having, whether I felt like it or not, whether I thought I could write something decent or not, whether I was having problems focusing or not. That advice has helped me so much on my writing journey.
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  4. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

    There are infinite variations on "the only way to have written a book is to write a book" - my current favourite is Susan Dennard's The Writing Is All That Really Matters. You can read every how-to process-guide to writing a book, but unless you put one word after another until you have the story written, it's not happening.

    That said, my favourite piece of "how-to" advice comes from Al Zuckerman's "Writing the Blockbuster Novel", and it is basically: tightness of focus promotes escalation of conflict. (Got two duellists facing off for the Virgin Queen's hand in marriage? Can they also be brothers? Can they both be working for her as well? The more connections you can make between the elements of your plot, the tighter together that story is bound, and the more the conflicts resonate.)
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    This is a general piece of advice for life in general. It was just some offhanded comment from one of my computer science professors from college, but it struck the right note at the right time.

    "You get what out of something what you put into it."

    It's not all that amazing, but it's simple and I found it to be very true.

    Another thing that stuck with me was part of an interview with Neil Gaiman. He told how many people go up to him and say that they have all these ideas and just can't find the time to write them down. Gaiman said something to the effect that they don't have to. There's no idea police that will come to punish you if you don't do anything with your ideas. You don't need permission to not write.

    This is something I think of when things get tough. It runs parallel with what I used to tell myself when I was slogging through school. I can walk away any time I want. If this is something I'm not prepared to commit to with all my heart then I might as well go off and find something I really want to do instead of wasting my time.
  6. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    Best advice I ever got was to not worry about the first draft - just finish it! Worry about fixing it up later. Most authors fail because they don't finish what they start.
    (Oh and I agree about writing every day - I set myself the target of a page a day - and graph the wordcount daily in excel - the graph shows me how fast i can work when i want to and shows up the periods when I don't write - it's also great motivation.)
  7. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

    I'm still a novice, so there is much insightful advice in my future, but the one thing that opened a window of understanding for me is :

    The magic of story telling is not in the telling but in the not telling. When the readers fill in the gaps the writer purposefully leaves, the magic happens.
  8. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    I collected the ones that stuck with me in a file I call me writing bible, I based it on The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, On Writing by Stephen King and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Oh, yeah that's a good one. My College writing teacher use to say, a story is like an iceberg, only 10% of it is visible. The rest is under the surface.
  10. thecoldembrace

    thecoldembrace Sage

    I've had several great writing instructors. The advice that has stuck with me through all the years is:

    "Write. Don't think, just write. Thinking comes later." I don't know why but I've always trusted in this, it just works. Let your fingers do the thinking and let your mind lay dormant.

    Other things have stuck with me, but I can't remember them at the moment, maybe when they strike I will add them to our thread.

    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Don't worry about having an original idea. Idea's are worthless - it's what you do with them that matters.
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Track your work.

    I say that a lot, but this advice has been essential for my writing. Not only did it help me develop writing into a habit, but it enabled me to see how small increments add up quickly.

    Habit, in my opinion, is an essential ingredient for success.
  13. Delwyn

    Delwyn Dreamer

    I'd like to echo Terry Greer and the cold embrace, by saying that worrying over every sentence or paragraph - in essence, trying to review and edit as you go, slows the whole process down and stems the flow of writing itself. I believe in the stream of consciousness of free flowing writing, as I used to be a worry-wart - agonizing over just about every word, until I read about Allen Ginsberg saying "first thought, best thought". Now - we all know that good editing is worth its' weight in gold - but that comes after the first draft.

    I could never finish anything due to being too much of a perfectionist - until I heard the best writing advice - for me. Just write! Don't read over what you have written until you've got it all out - whether the scene, the chapter or the whole book. When I took that advice and started flowing - I was amazed with what came out of me! For structure, I'd plot and plan - using excel spreadsheets, powerpoint, mind maps etc. Then I'd just go nuts writing like a demon and putting the pieces together after it was all out on the page. For me, it was the only way to get anything done!
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    There's a piece of . . . well, I don't know if it's advice I've received or a phrase I made up based on stuff I've read, but there's a phrase that I consider that helps me make better creative choices:

    Just pull the trigger and run with it.

    That is, don't hold back, don't worry about making choices, just do it and go with it. Have an idea? Don't debate it, just throw it into the mix. Find a way to make it work. Yeah, it can be a bad idea, or unwieldy, or wrong. But you'll know that more if you try it than if you shuffle it aside. The more you work at making all your ideas work together, the more you'll understand what those ideas are capable of becoming.

    But it works with the little things, too. You have no idea what to put on the page? Just pull the trigger on the first thing that comes to mind and run with it. Even if you have to throw it out, at least trying to get it to work will tell you more about what you're looking for.
  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Something I heard years ago, and which originally came from someone writing comedy shows for TV has stuck with me: "trust in and stick to your plan"

    The way I interpret this is that once I've written the outline for my story, I stick with it and I don't make any radical changes on the fly. My outline is how I've imagined the story to flow and it will - at least in some way - make a certain amount of sense. It's got the elements in it that it needs to have in it and I shouldn't add or remove anything that might affect the outcome of the story further down the line.
    If I do, I risk losing the focus of the story and having it run off in a completely new direction I previously hadn't foreseen. I'd then have to either force it back towards my original vision or scrap that vision and let the story be another story than I'd thought it'd be.

    I still add a lot of little minor details, but the main story remains unchanged.

    This advice may not work very well for those who like making up the story as they go along, but in my case it's very helpful.
  16. Velka

    Velka Sage

    My favourite nuts and bolts advice is from Ernest Hemingway:

    "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
    jbmarkes likes this.
  17. jbmarkes

    jbmarkes New Member

    This is counter-intuitive, but the man has a point. How often have I been stuck because I wrote straight through the exciting part and then called it a day?
  18. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    but if you do that, doesn't it suck the fun out of writing?
  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I used to use that trick, and sometimes still do. For me, it actually helped maintain excitement for the story. Part of it is about maintaining momentum. When you sit down for the next writing session there's no dicking around trying to figuring out how to begin. You already know, and you get back up to speed quicker.

    Also if you have a part that you're dying to get down on the page, it helps pull you back to the chair quicker. In addition, while you're away from the chair, as that unfinished part bounces around in your head, it can spark ideas for what comes next.

    When you wind something down, there's a definite stop, and mentally, it can give you a little too much satisfaction, so you're no longer hungry for more. It's like cliffhangers. With them, there's more urgency to get back and find out what happens next.

    IMHO it's a nice mental trick if you have trouble maintaining momentum.
  20. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    Hmm, that explanation has a lot more depth to it, and I can see where you're coming from now. I'll keep it in mind.

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