Sunday, September 6, 2015

Making It Work - The Best Writing Advice I Can Give (Yes, I used the dreaded 'it")

In looking back on my earlier work, I have to say I'm appalled at all the "newbie" mistakes I made. Since that time I've immersed myself in learning how to be a better writer. Each bit of writing advice I grasped with both hands, screaming, "This is the greatest thing ever!"

Until the next concept came along.

In some cases, what I learned was pure gold, and enhanced my writing, in others, I had to rip out all the changes I'd just made after spending two days crying over how the story was no longer mine. All that torrential downpour of advice and ideas becomes overwhelming for a writer determined to give readers the best work she can produce.

But... post A seems like the answers to my writing prayers... until I read post B, that entirely negates post A's advice. Each poster, each "how too" author firmly believes in their methods, and others do too, to the point where the message that comes across is: "This is the ONLY correct way to do this, and if you DON'T do it exactly this way, you're wrong and your writing will suck."

Then I further muddied the waters with an editing course, and thus perpetuated my own version of "do it this way."

Yesterday something happened to me that hasn't happened in a very long time: I fell for a book based on cover and blurb, that is not something I normally read. In fact, I can't understand why I wasn't put off by the concept, as I usually am. Against my better judgement, I bought the book, fully intending it to be a DNF.

I stayed up until 3 AM reading. I don't stay up until 3 AM unless there's a medical emergency. But I did. And I woke at 7 AM to read more.

A few minutes ago I breathed a satisfied sigh when I finished the story. Know what I read?

Autonomous body parts
Invalid simultaneous action
Head hopping
Shallow POV
Lots of showing instead of telling
Telling what should have been revealed in dialog
Repeated word usage
Internal thoughts that were both italicized and then "she thought to herself"
Inconsistent dialect
Several "big misunderstandings"
Poorly educated prairie settlers who sounded just like the local wealthy former professor
Multiple POVs
Inconsistent pacing
Sentences ending in "it"

In short, I muddled through just about every single situation I've had grilled into me that you cannot do and have a successful story.

You know what?


You know why?

Because the characters were so endearing, and I became so invested in them, that none of that mattered. Then it occurred to me to check the date the book was published and cross reference other books from that period.

Guess what, folks? The books I grew up reading were pretty much all written this way. And I loved them.

Now when I write, I'm so focused on word choice, sentence structure, etc. that I'm in danger of losing the reason why I began writing in the first place: because I love books, have stories inside me, and love sharing the people living in my brain.

I myself have, with the best of intentions, offered writing advice on this blog. But the best advice I can give is this:

Follow your heart. Tell the story that's in you to tell. Continue to read the blogs that help you improve your craft, but remember that you do not have to take every bit of advice offered. Do what works for you. If we all listened to and heeded the exact same advice, we'd have 40,000 authors who all sounded the same.

Write what's in your heart. Create awesome stories about people readers can relate to, be they everyday folks or superstars. But all the writing advice in the world cannot take the place of a dedicated, passionate writer, who follows their vision.


  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, I was kinda lost in my current story, and I needed this insight right now.

  2. That's the difference between mechanics and story. Most newbie writers obsess about mechanics -- what DWS calls "pretty sentences" -- and ignore the storytelling. It's the story that draws us in, though, and holds us. I don't know how often while reading fanfic I've gritted my teeth and dragged my bleeding eyeballs through a story where it was pretty clear the writer's grasp of English was dicy at best, but DAMN were they telling an awesome story. (And yeah, like you, with a really great writer I'll at least try anything. Abigail Roux has gotten me to read freaking World War II fiction, and I HATE that setting.) On the commercial side, it's more likely to go the other way -- I'll buy a book where all the sentences are very pretty, all (or most) of the spelling/grammar/punctuation is polished, but the story couldn't hold me no matter how I struggled to stay interested. A good copyeditor can fix obvious mistakes of craftsmanship, but as a writer, you need to be a great storyteller first and foremost, or you (and your readers) are doomed.

    Check this out:

    The poker analogy (I think it's in Chapters 3 and 5) is like a board to the back of the head, but in a good way. :) It's not about the cards, just like it's not about the sentences.


    1. Thanks! I've gotten a lot of valuable information from him.

      (Let's see if the third time is a charm, as in "this is the third time I've tried to reply to your post.)