Friday, September 10, 2010

Top 5 Pieces of Advice

Continuing my Top 5 series. (Click on the label to see the past installments.)

Top 5 Pieces of Advice I've Gotten on Writing

1) Write regularly.
As Billy Crystal said in Throw Mama from the Train (and, okay, as pretty much every writing instructor teaches), writers write. Well, duh. But it's so easy to call yourself a writer without actually sitting your behind in the chair, planting your fingers on the keyboard, and producing something. Regularly.

How you define regularly is up to you, but you if you go weeks or months without producing anything, you're not a writer. You might be a hobbyist who enjoys tinkering with words and stories, but you aren't a serious writer.

2) Read a lot.
This is right up there with #1. Stephen King in On Writing goes so far as to say he doesn't trust writers who don't read. I'm with him on that. My dear writer friend Luisa Perkins compares writing fiction to knowing a foreign language. Crafting fiction requires the writer to understand the "language" of fiction. To do be fluent in any language, you must study that language. In terms of writing, that means you must read. A lot.

I know writers who claim they don't have time. (Pshaw. One day, I'll put up tips for sneaking in reading time.)

But the worse excuse: that maybe their work will be influenced by another writer. Perish the thought! Mustn't read and be tainted.

Hah. Reading a lot (both in your genre and others) opens your creative brain. It allows you to come up with possibilities in plot, character, and even language that you wouldn't have thought up before.

And that doesn't mean copying another writer's ideas. It's unlocking the creative side of your head that can't be accessed any other way. (I've gotten ideas for stories while reading something totally unrelated. It's the process of reading that's important.) Reading also fills you up with new images, ideas, expressions.

Reading a lot is also a great way to learn how to write: Why did this scene work so well? What did the writer do here that made me so emotional? Why is was that plot twist so perfect and yet so surprising? Learn writing lessons by studying how others have done it before.

3) Learn both the craft and the business.
Do so by essentially joining the herd of writers. Go to conferences and workshops. Read books on writing. Study and comment on blogs. Follow editors and agents on Twitter.

The more you know about the craft, the better.

But. (And here's the icky part.) Writing isn't all about the words on the page. (If only!) It's a business, and if you understand some of the basic ins and outs of publishing, promotion, agents, royalties, and more, you'll have a big leg-up. Learn as much as you can.

4) Get thee to a critique group.
This is hands-down the best thing I ever did for my writing. Before joining my group (See who it now consists of on my sidebar there. I'm one fortunate gal), I had a few magazine and newspaper articles published . . . and a stack of rejections for novels.

The very first manuscript that went through the critique process from first to last page, getting feedback on plot holes, motivation issues, and highlights on plain old lame writing? That became my first published novel.

I needed outside eyes, solid feedback.

Is it a coincidence that that book was accepted out of the gate? Hardly.

5) Most people quit when it gets really dark. Those who succeed are the ones who refuse to stop.
I heard this sentiment at a workshop I attended waaaay before getting published. I knew in that instant that I'd be one of the successful ones. I looked around the room at the maybe 40 or so other attendees and thought, I can outlast all of you. I can outlast 2,000 others who start and will quit in a year or two. I'll still be standing when they've all given up.

I wonder how many others in that room are still going. (I know of one for sure, since she's part of my critique group!)

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?


lesa said...

I'm not a writer, but I really liked reading this advice. Good advice for other situations when I need to keep going on something...

Thanks for your post today.

Kristina P. said...

Probably to plagarize people who are actually funny.

It's a good thing I met DeNae.

Susan Anderson said...

To cut and edit mercilessly, then cut some more.


Sher said...

I think these rules can all apply to composing, too.

I definitely find inspiration from listening to music.

And being a member of the composer's guild help to associate myself with other composers and get feedback (although I've learned that most creative geniuses are slightly (or completely) crazy.)

Unknown said...

To keep a copyright attorney on retainer, and to give him Kristina's home address.

2nd best advice? Start a blog. It has done more to improve my writing than any other single choice I've made as a writer. An obvious reason might be that the more I write, the better I get at writing. A less-obvious reason might be that it has done for me what you advise here - it has put me in contact with other writers. I'm amazed at how many of my fellow bloggers are real-life writers, and I've received such great counsel, as well as such kind and generous expressions of support and friendship, from these writers. And I would never have met any of them if I hadn't started blogging first.

3rd best piece of advice? Did I already say the copyright attorney one...?

Jessica G. said...

Best advice: When you have writer's block, write anyway, even if it's not about the story you're working on, even if you're just cataloguing what's on your desktop. Keep writing!

I need a critique group...I have to seriously wonder if what I'm putting out is no good. How do I find a group?

Scott said...

Oh man: slap in the face! But at the same time motivating. This posts says that the dream is possible. These are things you hear all the time as a writers but to read it again has reminded me that I'm not doing them religiously enough-enough to be a writer. I'm slacking on number one; I've never done three and four and I think I'm weak in number five. Scratch that I AM. I look around in a book store and wonder "how could I ever stand out in so many books?" I should be asking myself "how can I stand out in this group?"

Annette Lyon said...

Do it, Scott! I used to go to book stores, walk to the L section and imagine seeing my name on a book there. I CAN happen!

See Mom Smile said...

I think that is the best writing advice I have ever gotten. Mostly because you mentioned Throw Mamma from the Train!

Heather Moore said...

"You have to submit in order to get published"


Amazon's famous Prime Day events are huge for so many reasons, and for bookworms, it's even better: books aren't high-ticket ite...