Best Writing Advice?

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Down the well
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Best Writing Advice?

Post by Down the well » September 22nd, 2010, 2:32 pm

We've talked about the wackiest advice we've ever heard, but what about the best?

Was there something someone said, or something you read in a book, or maybe even an intuitive moment you had on your own that has made a real difference in how you write?

Besides Jane Yolen's motto of BIC (butt in chair), the best advice I ever got was to never make life easy for the protagonist. Make them suffer, suffer, suffer. Sounds cruel, but it works.


What about you? What's the best writing advice you ever got?

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polymath
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by polymath » September 22nd, 2010, 3:09 pm

A published author and writing professor said in writing workshops and forms courses "slow down" repeatedly. Two out of three narratives presented in the workshops rushed through openings and middles. A good portion of them didn't begin until their endings. When it wasn't "slow down," it was pump priming, his term for front-end scaffolding. My term; prospecting for plot. I don't know that they were the best writing advices I've received, they're in the running though.

Jack Kerouac pounded out On the Road in twelve weeks after nine years of preparation.

Gustav Flaubert spent ten years writing Madam Bovary.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice took at least twelve years from inception to publication.

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom followed The Corrections into publication nine years later.

Not only slow down writing, but also slow down reading for the benefit of learning how accomplished authors produce the effect of making good writing look easy. That's another best advice, read, read widely, read closely for discerning methods.

The best writing advices are the ones I discovered on my own from reworking partial advices and poorly composed, but well-intended advices. Number one, disregard vices when reading, focus on virtues, leave out writing vices when writing, focus on virtues.

Another, clever darlings are a writer's most cherished parts of a narrative, and all too often a reader's least appreciated. Excise clever darlings. Clever darlings are forms of Bathos, Countersinking, False Humanity, False Interiorization, Squid in the Mouth, and other sorts of clever but flat-falling prose which tend to unsettle readers more than evoke interest.

A detailed account of common writing vices The Turkey City Lexicon hosted by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Some of the vices are unique to fantastical genre, most apply to many narratives in progress regardless of genre.

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city ... -workshops
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maybegenius
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by maybegenius » September 22nd, 2010, 5:30 pm

As Maureen Johnson said: "Give yourself permission to suck." Just like you don't just sit down at a piano and play an epic symphony, you don't just sit down and write a masterpiece. Even well-known stories about people sitting down and writing a masterpiece out of thin air are largely fabricated. For every literary giant, there are a thousand hours of suck before their breakout. You're allowed to suck. It's okay to suck. You can only get better.

Don't fall too deeply in love with your first draft. It's very unlikely that draft will survive to see the light of day.

On the other hand, don't neglect or hate on your first draft, either. It's just a baby. It doesn't know better. You have to nurture it to shape it into something great.

If you don't ache to write, you may be writing the wrong thing. Which isn't the same as having burnout days - we all have those. But if you cannot stay excited about a project, there's a problem.
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Down the well
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Down the well » September 22nd, 2010, 9:19 pm

polymath wrote:Not only slow down writing, but also slow down reading for the benefit of learning how accomplished authors produce the effect of making good writing look easy. That's another best advice, read, read widely, read closely for discerning methods.
I like this. I'm a slow reader. I wasn't always slow. It started when I began writing novels. I find I cannot read a book anymore without studying its structure, the dialogue, or the word choice, and wondering why the writer chose to write it the way they did. I can spend minutes re-reading a page, either scratching my head or nodding in awe.
polymath wrote:Another, clever darlings are a writer's most cherished parts of a narrative, and all too often a reader's least appreciated.
So true. Gotta love the betas.

maybegenius wrote:Don't fall too deeply in love with your first draft. It's very unlikely that draft will survive to see the light of day.
I had to laugh at this one. I looked up a bunch of stuff I had cut from my original draft about a year ago, and didn't recognize half the people in it. I had changed almost all of their names, and some of them, sadly, didn't survive the second draft at all.

maybegenius wrote:If you don't ache to write, you may be writing the wrong thing.
This is why I have three unfinished novels sitting in drawer. It takes more than dedication and BIC to finish a novel, IMO. It takes something akin to passion to see a project through to the end.

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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 23rd, 2010, 12:07 am

Best advice? Read. Read everything. Read things you like, things you don't think you'll like, read the classics and the debuts and non-fiction. Read historicals and children's picture books and museum visitor's guides and genres you'd never consider writing in. Read newspapers and blogs and comics and experimental digital novels. Read poetry and travel guides.

Read everything. Mine the world constantly for ideas.

I know I've posted this before, but I think it is applicable here too:

May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
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Down the well
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Down the well » September 23rd, 2010, 10:05 am

Love the video, Sommer!

I tried watching it when you first posted it, but it wouldn't load fast enough so I gave up. It worked this time. Yay.

I'm familiar with Jackson Pearce from another forum, and for such a young woman she is full of great advice. I think she's right to mention the jealousy and the way writers often fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others. People are always going to be at different mile-markers in the process, especially on forums like this. Good advice to focus on your own journey and not worry about someone else's.

And I'm getting a new printer after watching this. Sixty pages a minute? Really?

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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 23rd, 2010, 10:25 am

It's not a career, it's a hobby. Some people just happen to make money off of it.

---

Anything in the book is fodder for the delete key. To you, the author, it happened. In a distant scrap of dimension, it happened. You know it. You lived it. It existed.
So if someone tells you to get rid of it and it resonates to you that you need to get rid of it, don't hold onto it because you loved it. You chop that sucker out so fast it leaves a streaking star across the sky as it dies.
Because it still happened. You saw it. And it was beautiful.
Six months from now, when you look back, it will be the most hilarious piece of crap you've written, and you'll be glad you took it to the chopping block.

---

Those are the things I've learned so far. I haven't anything so far as quotes, but those are the two things I carry with me that keep me going. It keeps me level and keeps me sane. :3
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Ermo » September 23rd, 2010, 3:45 pm

I think the thing that I would add is that whatever short fall you think you have in your writing, somebody you really respect suffers from and deals with that same affliction. Whether it be plot issues, grammar problems, inexperience, rejection, etc., I guarantee you can find someone, either on here, or in the blogosphere that dealt with the same thing. I would suggest tapping into the writer community - it keeps you sane.

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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 23rd, 2010, 5:19 pm

A teacher (who probably got this from some famous writer) told me something that wasn't exactly advice, but rather a way of looking at fiction. She said, "Fiction is an exercise in problem solving." And basically, she added, you use all the narrative tools at your disposal (character, setting, language, etc.) to try to solve the problems. She was talking mostly about bringing thematic questions to the page and working through them via narrative. So, like, why are there bad people in the world? Or what does it really mean to be abandoned? Or what, really, is implied in the term "miscarriage," and how do you understand and internalize that experience? In literary and realistic fiction especially, I think, you're asking questions that aren't necessarily answerable, but the story gets tangled up in universal, emotion-based issues in the same way that people interact with the world on a daily basis. The investigation of the questions is part of the story's logic or scaffolding.

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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 23rd, 2010, 5:20 pm

I should add, the problem solving part also has to do with making the story interesting. How do you solve issues of pacing, character development, plot holes, etc? On a craft level, you have to work out the problems using every tool you know.

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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Down the well » September 24th, 2010, 9:47 am

sierramcconnell wrote:It's not a career, it's a hobby.
I actually try and consider it less of a hobby. Realistically it is, but treating my writing as a potential career makes me take it more seriously and dedicate tons of hours to it. But I understand the mindset of not expecting too much too soon from something that has a poor track record of dream fulfillment.
Ermo wrote:I think the thing that I would add is that whatever short fall you think you have in your writing, somebody you really respect suffers from and deals with that same affliction. Whether it be plot issues, grammar problems, inexperience, rejection, etc., I guarantee you can find someone, either on here, or in the blogosphere that dealt with the same thing. I would suggest tapping into the writer community - it keeps you sane.
Absolutely! Even the biggest hermits among us need other writers. And I know how much I've learned from the smart people on these forums.

One of the Mad Ones wrote: In literary and realistic fiction especially, I think, you're asking questions that aren't necessarily answerable, but the story gets tangled up in universal, emotion-based issues in the same way that people interact with the world on a daily basis. The investigation of the questions is part of the story's logic or scaffolding.
Love this. The core of good literature.

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Mira
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Re: Best Writing Advice?

Post by Mira » September 24th, 2010, 2:48 pm

Great topic! I'm enjoying reading the comments.

I love the book by Brenda Ueland called "If you want to write". It's old-fashioned, but very inspiring.

Probably the most important thing she says in that book is that the process of writing is good for you. So, whether you get published or not, writing is extremely valuable in terms of personal development and as a way to help you get in touch with who you are and to see things with more clarity.

She said it better, but that was the gist of it. :)

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