What's with all this negativity! Today I'm going to look at eleven writing tips that are suppsoedly aimed at helping writers, and we'll see if they're really of any utility. You might have noticed that whenever someone puts out a book that purportedly tells you how to write a best-seller, it's always by an author you never heard of before; it's never by the author of an actual best-seller! Unless of course they seriously do what I jokingly do - which is call my one novel that sold any amount, my best seller! LOL! Well, it's true, right? Out of what I;ve written so far, it did sell the best!
So let's look at these writing tips and I'll toss in my two-cents worth for what it's worth. I've written over thirty novels, novellas, and novelettes, and if I say that each averaged a bare miminum of around 40,000 words, that's over a million words I've put down. I've also read, or tried to read, some 5,000 books at least, so that counts as some experience too. That sure doesn't make me an expert or a wizard prognosticator, but it does give me some amateur insights.
- Write What You Know About. I call bullshit on this one. Here's how I know: Did Stephen King ever know a girl in high school who could move things with her mind? Did he ever meet a classic car that was haunted by a ghost or meet a gunslinger from a parallel world? The answer to all these questions, as I'm sure you already know, is a resounding 'No'! He never did. So how is he writing what he knows? Did Jo Rowling ever spend seven years going through the British schooling system among a bunch of witches and wizards? Nope. Did Stephanie Meyer ever meet a vampire or a werewolf? Sha right! Did Ian Fleming ever travel to exotic countries on spy missions durign the Cold War, battling master criminals? Nah! Did Suzanne Collins ever have to fight to the death in a vicious contest representing her district? No, she did not. None of these people were writing what they know. You know what they were all writing? What they could get away with! That doesn't guarantee sucess, and you will look like an idiot if you write outside your comfort zone without researching your topic properly, but you do not have to stick to writing what you know! You're writing fiction for goodness sakes! It's all made up. You don't have to write what you know, you just have to look like you're writing what you know, or at least make it so enthralling that your readers won't give a shit that you're making it up as you go along - which is what all of us are doing anyway!
- Show, Don’t Tell. This one I can get with, but again, you're the writer. You're in charge. You get to decide how much you tell, and how much you show. That said, it is tedious to be all Tell, William! It's called info-dumping, and no one wants that. But back to Stephen King. I'm not a fan, but this is a guy who's made a career out of info-dumping every character's entire family history even unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate me! This guy cannot stop himself from telling up the wazoo, and he seems to have made a fine career out of it.
- Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes is a very misleading piece of advice. If you make those mistakes in your first draft, don't sweat them, but they had better be long gone by the time you self-publish your novel. Even if you publish with Big Publishing™ your editor will not catch them for you, nor will your beta readers. Only you cna prevent fiction fires I've seen far too many novels from the publishing establishment with the most egregious mistakes in them ot ever trust those fuckers. So yeah do whatever it takes to get your first draft written, inlcuding wiritng nonsense, ignroign msitakes and skippign gleefully over plot holes and deus ex machina devices, but be damned sure you edit it fully and in detail, and you fix every pothole on The Road to Wigan Pier before it ever sees the light of publishing.
- Read So You Can Write is another decent one. But your reading needs to be smart. If you're wanting to write in genre X, then read the best writers who have come before you in genre X. That doesn't mean you can't read other genres at all - sometimes a little cross-pollination is good for the soul of your work, but do read the best - and then do not copy them! Your work needs to be original, not a clone, not a cookie-cutter replica, not a retread. If you are widely-read in romance genre, do not set your next romance in space unless you also read some sci-fi first, otherwise you'll look like an idiot. The same goes for creating a modern day western - read some fo the classic westerns! You already know about the modern day so yourle covered there. The same applies to any cross-genre writing. Being an expert in one does not necessarily equip you to tell a story in another, even if you're transposing a genre with which you're intimately familiar.
- Write and Write, and Write. Apart from reading, the next best way to become good at what you do is to write. Don't imagine you have to work at writing your epic novel every single day all the live-long day. Some will advise you to write every day. but that can be soul destroying if you're going through a bad patch. Don't be afrair to 'bunk off' as the Brits say. Do be afraid to quit and never get back to it. One way to avid this is to write something different if you feel like you're getting bogged down. It doesn't have to mean starting a new novel, which coudl prove to be a serious distraction from getting that first one finished. It doesn't even have to mean writing something fictional. You could just write down what you did that day and elaboate on it. Or you coudl write what you'd really like to eat for dinner if your budget were limitless, or where you would spend your next vacation if the same financial restraints were gone. The point is not to get burned out. Forcing yourself to write, like itl;s a pchore or a punishment is the worst thign youc an do to yourself. Writign needs to be a joy if yourel goignt o makle a career out of it, so write that joy. A relaxed attitude doesn't mean you can afford to be totally lax. At some point you will need to knuckle down and get it done. But you do nto ahve to flag yourself. If you find you do, then you're fpding it worng! Yourel weigther wiritng the worng nvoel or takling the worng approach to it. Maybe it's not a comedy. Maybe it's a horror show. Or vice-versa. This is not a piece of furniture in a packing crate. It's not lead-crystal glass. It will nto break if you open it from the other side, get it wet, or drop it! Do not be afraid to stand it on its head to figure that out.
- Write Even When You Feel You Have Nothing to Say. This sounds like the opposite of the previous observation, but the thing is, if you really want to write, don't stop yourself by saying, "I don't have it, I'll just take today off." Use the mood! Go ahead and write, even if it doesn't fit with the rest of the story. Even if you edit the whole thing out on the penultimate read-through. If you feel the need to write, then get our of your way and let yourself write, even if it's nonsense. Even if it's a different story. Even if the chacter you killed-off two chapters ago wants to resiurrect themselves because they still have something to say or something to do. It's fiction, but it does need to breathe and move and have its being.
- Don't let your first draft depress you! William Shakespeare never did. He edited like crazy and he's considered a genius. I don't know if I agree with that, but he certainly has longevity doesn't he? And he made a living from his work during his lifetime, so he definitely had the write idea. Get that first draft done, employing whatever techiniques it takes to get you to the end. Let it sit. A good pot of tea has to brew for a while. Then taste it and see how much sugar and milk - if any, you need to add. Maybe it needs lemon, or orange, or honey? Those are the rewrites and they're much easier and more fun than the first draft, believe me. Book editors don't know how easy they have it.
- Write What You’d Like to Read. This was the idea that Marvel Comics' Stan Lee had, an he was a genius, but I'm not sure it's great advice. I mean it's a wonderful thing to be original, but that's not what readers are buying or publishers are publishing in this era of endless cloned YA trilogies and so on. It's really frustrating, which is why I self-publish. I do write what I'd like to read. I write what's missing from the cookie-cutter world of cloned literature that's so pervasive these days. it doesn't mean it will ever sell, not while readers are sheep and follow the crowd everywhere regardless of how boring and tedious it is to do so.
- Keep a Notebook Handy. Bullshit! No one in their right mind uses a notebook and one is useless when you're driving. These days you can send a text or an email to yourself (or anyone else!) even while driving - hands-free, that is! DO NOT text and drive using your hands! But if you cna send mail or texts using voice only, then while still focused primarily on your driving, by all means send your ideas to yourself as a text or an email, because while you will remember the best and most exciting ideas you have - they will come back to you even if you think you have forgot them - you will also forget a lot, and especially the details that sounded so good the night before, or that you worked out while waiting at the red light!
- Be Disciplined. I'm not into BDSM; nor would I need to be to write about it (LOL!), but writing discipline is another thing. It's back to thart idea of forcing yourself to write every day which we already decided is not a charmed idea. However, you do need to nudge yourself often and make yourself write most days to get that first draft done, no excuses. This is where the dicipline comes in.
- Have Fun! None of these so-called writing experts will tell you that, but it's really the most important advice of all. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, you're either in the wrong profession or, purely in the realm of writing - you're writing the wrong story, or the wrong plot, genre, characters, location - something! You need to have fun or you're going to be a miserable writer and your readers, should you garner any, will know it.