Usually, I come to you with a question and then provide all of the answers. But today the tables have been turned, because I would like to hear from you. My Question: What’s the best writing advice that’s ever been given to you? It can either be something stated directly, or something you’ve picked up while writing and working on a project. You decide.
Here, I’ll provide my own, after letting you in on one of my biggest secrets. For the past two or three years I’ve been a huge fan and follower of various writing websites, some of which have offered as much insight as the books I read and discuss here. This website has continually offered me great beginner advice that I would like to share with you, as well as, recommend that you check out the site; it’s called: brainpickings.org.
Maybe some of you have heard about it, but to the others when you’re through reading this article, do take a trip across the world wide web. For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the type of advice offered to beginners by more professional writers. And like with many other things, I am learning how to accept the things that gel with me and drop the ones that don’t. On the site mentioned above, various writers like Ernest Hemingway, Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood (et al) offer anywhere from 8 to 10 pieces of advice. Or rules as it were, and from this group of four, I have chosen to discuss a few rules from the latter three, because they have been the most helpful thus far.
For me, Zadie Smith is like a level-headed guru, who offers practical advice. Some of which I have learned, others that I go over again and again. Below are three of her rules.
4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
These are the three pieces of advice that appeal to me most, but if you go over the entire list, others might stand out for you. As a beginner myself, aiming for the Young Adult reader, I have to remind myself that I cannot, as yet, do everything to get my novel to the level that it should be at. But every book created takes or will take me one step further. Closer. It will be the same for you. (As you can tell I am a firm believer in making incremental changes, small inroads into my weaknesses so that eventually they will be overcome. Only time will tell.)
Neil Gaiman is the second master craftsman, I look to for assistance. His rules are simple, direct and sometimes comical. Follow them anyway. Rule 1. Write. 2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. 3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. 4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and like the kind of thing that this is. (Gaiman’s link here.)
A lot of good advice, remember: writers write. And if you pay attention to the advice of writers, sometimes some things are often repeated. Pay attention to those, they are really important. Finally, the last writer, Margaret Atwood, seems pretty zany but her craft is superb. So, read on.
1. Take a pencil to write on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. 3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. 4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick. 5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. 6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
If you can hear the slant of humor coming through, then maybe you can also see all the valid points that are swirling around with them. Things like holding the reader’s attention and backing up your work. To check out Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Advice to Beginning Writers, go to brainpickings.org. Trail the site on weekends, when you get a bit of free time and look out for anything interesting.
Now, I leave the floor open for you. In the reply box below, please share any bits of advice that you’ve found helpful. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from each other.