View Full Version : Best writing advice...

04-17-2011, 06:38 AM
Since we have a thread about worst writing advice... let's do the best ones.

I'll start:

"What is art if no one sees it?"

It's not really a writing advice but it applies anyway. An actress friend of mine once said that, when other actors were trying so hard talking about "the art of acting." Her take was: we act for an audience; if we're too focused on the "art" and not the accessibility for our audience, then we'd fail, because our audiences won't relate. That made me think really hard as I was trying to be "writerly" at the point. I realized I'd forgotten my readers.

p.s. she's gone on to become a rather successful actress, having won two Emmys so far.

04-17-2011, 06:44 AM
"Say what you want to say, then say it."

I don't care if it's about the cruelty and inhumanity of the human condition or the way you feel when your dog puts his head on your lap. Say something.

Don't fiddle about creating historical timelines and obsessively filling out character sheets when you could be writing something that means something.

04-17-2011, 07:02 AM
For me, I write to improve where I've received the most helpful feedback to correct my most common flaws. It's fine to dwell on areas where you've been consistently complimented. My strengths have alway been stunning visuals or cinematic narrative, great pace and voice/style, transition and description. I leave those alone--I have them down pat without having to think about it.

My characters need more depth, truer emotional action/reactions. I'm full of passive, so much passive that I clog the pages with incomprehensible passages that make it difficult for the reader to understand what I'm trying to say. Verbosity. Dragging things out, repeating myself.

Forget your strengths, let them only spur you on. Pay heed to your weaknesses. Start hacking away at your greatest flaws. Take notes and put up stickies that warn you of your prose dangers. Strive to even out all aspects of the elements of writing. Find that balance where everything is starting to improve and escalate. Don't shine a few of your most precious jewels in the bag, pull out the works and give all of them the attention they need.

Grease the squeaky wheel. The others can wait.


04-17-2011, 07:23 AM
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
--Claude M. Bristol

04-17-2011, 09:13 AM
"Get it written, not right."

I.e., don't self-edit as you write.

04-17-2011, 01:09 PM
Read widely is some of the best advice.

04-17-2011, 01:11 PM
Don't fiddle about creating historical timelines and obsessively filling out character sheets when you could be writing something that means something.
The two are not mutually exclusive. For some people, the process of writing something meaningful might include fiddling about creating historical timelines and obsessively filling out character sheets.

Writing is such an individual process.

whimsical rabbit
04-17-2011, 01:47 PM
Keep an open mind. Be attentive and receptive to feedback.

04-17-2011, 02:00 PM
Keep an open mind. Be attentive and receptive to feedback.


04-17-2011, 02:01 PM
"Write what you know".

Although some people interpret that as the worst writing advice, to me it is the best, because I read it as "Know before you write" or "Don't write what you don't know."

In other words, do your homework before you sit down at the keyboard. This is important for non-fiction writers because of all of the research involved. Ditto for journalists.

This is also important for novelists, because if you don't have your facts straight, you'll alienate your target market.

Most people who haven't been living under a rock are familiar with Dan Brown's bestselling book "The DaVinci Code".

Not as many people are as familar with the cyberpunk thriller he wrote before that titled "The Digital Fortress".

In The DaVinci Code and the others in that series, he plays fast and loose with historical fact for dramatic effect. I have enjoyed all of them.

In The Digital Fortress it is clear that the author is someone who knows nothing about technology. Considering that the audience for cyberpunk thrillers is largely techies who do know their tech, that was a huge mistake. Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are good examples of the genre, his book is an example of how not to write a cyberpunk thriller. It is a turkey.

The reviewers on amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Fortress-Thriller-Dan-Brown/dp/0312944926/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1303033734&sr=1-3) are pretty savage when it comes to the second edition of the book that was released in 2008. Apparently it is no better than the original.


Purple Rose
04-17-2011, 02:02 PM
Read, just read. You have to be a good reader even before you consider writing.

Linda Adams
04-17-2011, 03:03 PM
"Trust the muse."

There are a couple of writing elements (characters, structure) that I get instinctively. I can't explain how I do them or how I get them, just that I do. Yet, I've had people tell me I'm doing it wrong because I'm not filling out character worksheets or developing them when they think I should develop them.

04-17-2011, 03:12 PM
Work's never wasted.

Don't be frightened to ditch writing that no longer serves the book's purpose. It was worth writing it, just to find out where it would take you.

04-17-2011, 03:17 PM
"Get it written, not right."

I.e., don't self-edit as you write.

This is the advice that took me from a dozen aborted novel attempts to a completed manuscript.

A.V. Hollingshead
04-17-2011, 03:20 PM
Don't fiddle about creating historical timelines and obsessively filling out character sheets when you could be writing something that means something.
I agree, wholeheartedly. Whenever people tell me they rely on character sheets - more particularly, if they don't make their own up based on their individual character and story's needs and just print up some nonsense list from the internet, I just get this mental image of Charles Dickens pondering over whether Scrooge was more of Tartini or Vivaldi fan, or rolling a d20 on each ghost to see if he'd be convinced to turn good yet ("Christmas Past!" *rolls* "Damn, a 5. Scrooge has a stubbornness level of 18").

04-17-2011, 03:23 PM
Nobody can write your stories, but you and if you don't write them, nobody will.



04-17-2011, 04:17 PM
Take risks.

04-17-2011, 04:27 PM
Never give up

04-17-2011, 04:40 PM
I agree with the advice here, especially getting something written without trying to make it perfect at first.

An artist friend used to say that paintings finished themselves if you left them alone for a while. While somewhat less true of writing, taking a break can help.

04-17-2011, 04:43 PM
Two kind of related quotes:

"Joggers jog, wankers wank, writers write. You can't call yourself a writer if that isn't what you do."

"Everyone has 1,000,000 words of crap in them the sooner you get them out onto paper the sooner you'll write something good."

I suppose they are both ways of saying "Just do it" which to my mind is THE fundamental piece of advice.

04-17-2011, 04:50 PM
-You've got to develop thick skin.
-Butt in chair.
-Write your first draft with your heart, revise with your head.

04-17-2011, 05:26 PM
More for editing/critiques than first drafts, but:

Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
-Neil Gaiman

04-17-2011, 05:32 PM
Write the next book.

Quentin Nokov
04-17-2011, 10:54 PM
Two heads are better than one.

Having someone that loves your story as much as you do helps break writer's block. Going to them for advice or plot-help makes writing a little bit easier than trying to come up with an idea on your own.

04-18-2011, 01:25 AM
"Stories are about character's with problems."

"Fiction is emotion based, not fact based."

04-18-2011, 01:29 AM
"If you write, you're a writer. Don't be afraid to call yourself that."

This was said by a professor of mine. Up to that point, I never referred to myself as a writer because I had never been published. Now I know better. A writer writes, regardless of publishing history. So now I say it proudly. I am a writer! :)

04-18-2011, 01:43 AM
Write the next book.

I try and follow this advice as well.

04-18-2011, 02:38 AM
"Use what works for you."

There are so many prescriptivist rules out there, you could spin yourself into knots trying to follow them. Hearing published authors stand up and go, hey, this works for me, but it might not work for everyone, and what works for most people doesn't work for me, was enormously freeing. And useful. There's a lot of great advice out there that's absolutely perfect for 90% of writers, and utterly wrong for the other 10%. And that 10% shifts, depending on what the advice is.

Karen Junker
04-18-2011, 02:48 AM
I'm so happy someone pointed out to me that 'its' is the possessive and 'it's' is the contraction.

Also, never open your story with the MC waking from a dream.

04-18-2011, 02:55 AM
"Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?"

I forgot who originally said this, but the author did it in the context that it doesn't matter what you write in your first draft as long as you're actually writing. Revising can come later; what is important is getting the ideas onto paper first.

This quote totally freed my timid self and let me explore my writing capabilities.

04-18-2011, 03:27 AM
"Change your major. You're a writer."

College professor. Unfortunately, I did not take her advice to change my major, but when she told me I was a writer it made my day. It kinda made my life, too.

04-18-2011, 04:13 AM
Keep writing. Even if you throw out today's work, tomorrow's will be better.

Quentin Nokov
04-19-2011, 02:38 AM
I'm so happy someone pointed out to me that 'its' is the possessive and 'it's' is the contraction.

Also, never open your story with the MC waking from a dream.

I did that for my very first novel, needless to say, I went back and changed it. :tongue

Another bit of advice, is I know how exciting it is to finish a novel, but don't jump-the-gun to get it published. Let it sit for 6 months to a year and in the time write the sequel or another story. Once enough time has lapsed, go back to it, you'll be amazed at how much you improve at writing in such a short span of time. You'll also find typos a lot easier and possibly even plot holes or maybe even have better ideas.

Sarah Madara
04-19-2011, 03:12 AM
Readers are sadists. Give them blood.

04-19-2011, 03:22 AM
You can't edit what you haven't written.

David Marshall
04-19-2011, 03:31 AM
"Keep beating your stories into submission" -- Gardner Dozois

04-19-2011, 03:45 AM
Be brave.

Actually, that's the best advice I've ever gotten about anything, not just writing.

04-19-2011, 04:49 AM
C. Valentino told me this. Best advice ever!

You need to love this story - hell or high water- you need to love it so much that you believe it is as good as you can get.

04-19-2011, 03:18 PM
Tell your self-editor to STFU while you write. They can come back later.

04-19-2011, 06:55 PM
Tell me without words,
let your words lie,
but never lie to me.

Meaning: Don't get bogged down under a pile of dialogue. I was learning screenwriting at the time where visual stimuli is obviously very important. Letting words lie meant that characters need not always speak the truth just as real people tend to lie to others and themselves. The last part, which I hope is obvious, means be honest with your readers even if your characters aren't honest with themselves.

04-19-2011, 06:58 PM
"Rules were made to be broken, but you have to understand the rules before you can effectively break them."

04-19-2011, 07:28 PM
I think this might be for your revision but the best piece of advice ive ever come across is:

Read out loud

I got this from Little Love Songs by Michelle Magorian which is at the end at least about an emerging writer and this is by far the best tip mentioned in it.

As a new writer myself the others mentioned are brilliant - its good to know Im not the only one going through things!!

04-19-2011, 07:46 PM
"Sit your fucking ass down and write"

"Muse,my ass. Actually writing is what gets a book finished."

Translation: Waiting around for your muse to give you the perfect sentence,etc,is nonsense. You have to persevere through dry spells, crying jags,etc and keep it moving aka write.