Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to Take Writing Advice


Young Ben has gone to bed remarkably early, the dishes are done, the dog is walked, and I have half an hour before I should be in bed and an hour and a half before I usually go to bed. So I feel comfortable blogging again.

Boy, it's been awhile. How am I doing? Tired, mostly. I'm operating under a self-imposed requirement to write 100 words or more per day and have been for the past month. That's netted me 2,600 words, which sounds good, but I'm supposed to be at 3,200, which means in the race between the tortoise and the hare I'd be the snail that fell off the turtle's shell twenty feet back.

Which is all irrelevant because I'm here to talk writing advice.

I consume a lot of it. I've read On Writing by Stephen King, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore, and How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card before he went publicly loopy. I subscribe to Chuck Wendig's terribleminds, I listen to Writing Excuses every week - basically I could write a convincing book of writing advice without having published a book beforehand. *stares suspiciously at past blog posts until they shuffle away*

So is all this stuff helpful? Well it's no substitute for practice. Stephen King can tell you that he plots by letting his characters figure out what to do next and following them, but understanding what he's doing doesn't mean you can do it. You have to try it, suck at it, and try it again until you reach an acceptable level of suck; or try it, suck at it, and try something else until you find something you feel comfortable sucking at, and then polish that skill to an acceptable level of suck.

Either way, just reading or listening to some advice won't improve your writing. What it can do is point you in the right direction, or give you an idea of what you need to work on, or put you on the right brain frequency to come up with an idea you need. For example, The Kick-Ass Writer at one point discusses mind maps as a plotting technique. I read that, decided to give it a try (hello XMind), and generated a few maps based on The Novel. Not only did that solidify a few character details for me, it set off a few plot ideas and thoughts on new characters that have opened up huge story possibilities. The actual advice didn't much help - the technique doesn't quite fit me - but giving it a try was a huge benefit.

It doesn't have to be advice from a King Hell Published Author Persona, either. Awhile back Wendig threw down the gauntlet and demanded elevator pitches. The responses to mine were brilliant, reminding me to refocus on the core premise ("a boy and his demon") and helping me work out quite a few plot snarls I'd been staring down for weeks. So consider this a thumbs up to writer's forums, if you can find a good one; and I'm always taking recommendations, hint hint.

What else does writing advice do? 99% of the time it validates that writing is a good thing, and encourages you to keep doing it. The benefits of that really can't be understated, especially when you're trapped under the Writer's Block and you keep getting interrupted from chiseling out of it by your son launching projectile vomit across your living room. Even if you can self-motivate yourself to keep writing 24/7 forever, having someone tell you that it's right and true can give you a little extra "oomph."

So use writing advice when you need it. If you're feeling unmotivated, read a favorite passage from a good advice book to help get back on the ball. If you're stuck, try out an exercise or a new technique and see what shakes loose. Never feel obligated to follow the letter of whatever advice you get; if you lock yourself into outlining everything because someone else told you you have to, you're fucked, even if you like outlining. But try a bit of this and a bit of that and form your own crazy mish-mash process. Then write down what you did and sell it to Writer's Digest so you can poison the minds of future generations. For money. Muahahaha.

And if you have any good advice, or know of good advice, toss it in the comments. Spambots will be summarily executed as soon as I get Blogger to let me do that.

1 comment:

Veronica Sicoe said...

I've read 36 writing books to date, and the most useful things I've derived out of them were related to story structure, pacing and characterization, and frankly, just ideas on how to get unstuck or upgraded in the current stage of my project. Which is to say, I agree with you that writing advice is not absolute, but it can help you brainstorm your story in surprising ways (not always pertinent to the actual advice being read). :)