Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Best Advice a Writer Can Receive

Authors who appear before groups are often asked several pat/canned questions. Where do we get our ideas. Did we get our story from personal life? Who's our favorite authors? But one I usually stumble with is this one . . . "What's the best advice you ever received?"

Our writing lives happen in stages. Novice, early journeyman, journeyman, lieutenant master and master. Yes, I just made that up, but it is how I see a writer's career. You don't travel from one to another without serious investment of time, education and experience, not to mention bumps and bruises. But with each stage comes advice from those who've gone before us.

So I say there isn't one piece of advice that trumps the others. We amass advice, and it behooves us to remember all the jewels and not think that one diamond outshines the other gems. There comes time for rubies, sapphires, opals, onyx, tanzanite, and emeralds as well. All are worthwhile to keep.

Here is some of the best advice I've received from acquaintances about writing:

1) Finish whatever you start. 

What you think starts out slow might end on a high note. What you think isn't good now might be once you edit. Writing can zap the life out of you, and sometimes we reach a mid-point in a work and want to give up. That might be the time you need to dig in and prove you can overcome this hump. I had a published mystery author tell me this over dinner one night, before her signing, when I told her my rough draft of Lowcountry Bribe sat on a shelf from where I gave up.

2) Write daily.

It works for Stephen King, and he's unashamed to say it's the right way to write. It's served him well. Whether you write morning pages ala Julia Cameron or five hundred words in your next novel or angst-ridden poetry, write every day. You don't get better not writing. You don't get  better thinking about writing. You don't get better by quitting when it gets hard. You only get better by writing, so writing daily only makes sense.

3) Read voraciously.

The more I read, the better I write. And I've become selective in what I read because reading is like osmosis. What you reads sinks into your system. I choose what I think is better writing than mine because I want to learn as I'm entertained. We write better when we read better writing. Don't ever be caught without a book, and don't think you have to read bad writing to understand it. You already know what it is. As a professional, fight to move forward in your talent.

4) Be careful of those who hold you back.

You know the people I'm talking about. The ones who question your ability to earn a living as a writer. But also the ones who rabidly criticize you for taking yourself seriously. Keep chugging away, and discard the naysayers. Critiquers are good, but some get overzealous. And as one critique partner of mine warned me on one dark evening when a couple of writers tried to dismantle what I considered a damn fine chapter: "Many unsuccessful writers will try to change your writing, because it makes them feel big to impact your climb to success." Believe in yourself and keep at it.

5) Never think you've arrived.

Humility exists in all levels of professionalism. About the time you think you've arrived, something or someone will painfully remind you that there's always room to grow.

6) It has to hurt.

Rejection, critiques, mistakes, one-star reviews, snubs, ignored submissions, contest losses, no comments on your blog, your sister not reading your manuscript, and on and on. All jobs have down sides. Writing is no different. Don't be such a diva. Put a band-aid on it and keep writing. Learn from the scars. Accept your mistakes and try not to make them again.

7) And most of all . . . keep going.

Especially on the days that suck. Especially on the days someone stomps all over your creativity. The fact you got up and kept writing makes you stronger.


Sean McLachlan said...

Nice list!

My favorite single piece of advice came very early in my career. I was at a writing conference and a multipublished mystery author (whose name I have sadly forgotten) told me "If you write a page a day, but the end of the year you'll have a book".

I tried it and it worked. Then I asked myself, "What if I write TWO pages a day?"

I also like Heinlein's Rules of Writing

Linda O'Connell said...

"Put a Bandaid on it and keep writing." The sooner a writer learns this the better. Great tips, as usual.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope--It IS a good list. I think advice--if we're lucky--comes in waves, and if we're truly fortunate, the right advice comes during the phase in which we need it. Or, we pray we can remember the gems and hold onto them, and put them to use when we need them.

It's not advice, but our critique group claims that "Friends don't let friends write crap." Thankfully, none of my critique group ever writes crap, so we've never had to sniff it and look at it and determine that it is, indeed, crap.

Karen said...

Great list.
My faves are 4 and 5. And I love how they seem to be oppositional and yet oh-so-necessary together.

Hope Clark said...

Thanks so much, friends. Yes, advice can be oh so important, but sometimes we don't even see how important it is until so much later, too.

writerdeman said...

Thanks for this very important list. Today I quit a newspaper column that I had written for three years. I hung in there probably longer than I should have because I am so deadline-driven. (If I don't have one, I don't do what I am supposed to do.) I am also A.D.D. Knowing this scares me and I have to find absolutes that keep me writing. Your timely advice may just be some of the best I've received! Thanks, I'm going to print them up and post them by my calendar.

Hope Clark said...


So happy to help you in this transition. Sometimes deadlines are what we all need, ADD or not.

Christine Calderwood said...

Every little bit of advice here is AMAZING, Hope! Wow. Thank-you so much for this post!

Hope Clark said...

You are quite welcome, Christine. I've used it all at some point in my efforts, and continue to use them. Just wanted to share.

Unknown said...

Great list!
"Put a Bandaid on it and keep writing" is so true. Rejection is one of the hardest things we face as a writer, but everyone goes through it.
All your points are wonderful and good advice to all.

Susan Toy said...

Great list! I'd like to add the advice I received from Canadian author, Sheree Fitch: Write with joy. The subject matter does not need to be joyful, but you must have joy in whatever it is that you write, in the story you're telling, and in the process of writing.

Hope Clark said...

I like "write with joy." Be joyful you can write, be joyful you have a story to tell, be joyful in just piecing a sentence together. Nice.

Janet said...

Good advice! I don't write every day. Sometimes I write so much when I'm trying to get something finished or working on numerous things, that I get burned out,and I just need a rest - whether it be a day or a week - and then I'm ready to jump back into it.

Rick Bylina said...

Keep going. Oy! Why didn't I think of that? Time to write that next work and then next sentence. I'll try a paragraph this afternoon. Tomorrow, a scene. Maybe next week, a chapter, and soon, soon, I'll have a book. I think that's how this works.

It is a good list.

Hope Clark said...

Thanks, Rick. I think so.

Jordan Clary said...

Thanks for the advice! It was very timely for me. I just turned in notice at my full time staff writing job at a newspaper (I've been building up my freelance work for the past year), and my editor was both sarcastic and unbelieving that I would give up a full time job "in this economy." Yes, it was nice to have benefits, but the wages were on par with slinging burgers.

Hope Clark said...

And newspapers don't understand why they are dying. Congrats and good luck, Jordan.