The Best Writing Advice

The Best Writing AdviceBecause writing is an art form that can largely be learned, and because it is a craft that can always be perfected, most writers commit early on to studying to show themselves approved.

We subscribe to magazines, buy books, read blogs, and attend workshops.  We’re always on the hunt for that one sparkling bit of truth that will transform our writing into something special.

Of course, we learn pretty quickly there’s no such thing as a magic bean in the writing life. But that certainly doesn’t negate either our search for wisdom or our discoveries of the gems.

This week, I decided to conduct a (highly unscientific) survey amongst my followers on Twitter and Facebook  to discover some of the best writing advice. A big thank you to everyone who participated! Following are some of the highlights, divided by category.

Your Best Writing Advice About Description

“Learn how to use ALL of your senses in descriptions, not just sight and hearing.”—Liberty Speidel

Your Best Writing Advice About Revision

“When revising, look at the whole manuscript and fix the biggest problems first instead of starting at page 1.”—@thedaisyharris

Read what you write out loud.”—Linda Yezak

Your Best Writing Advice About “the Rules”

“Learn the rules so that you know HOW and WHEN to break them.”—Rachel Smith Fernandes

Your Best Writing Advice About Studying

Read as much as you write.”—Shane Deal

“Read and read some more.”—Christian Jaeschke

Your Best Writing Advice About Voice

“My J-school professor told me to always write the way I speak. ‘It’s the way you’d tell a story anyway, right?’”—@GeorgiaGrlWritr

Your Best Writing Advice About “Just Writing”

“Get in the chair (or wherever) and write. Simple but effective.”—@ericjkrause

Write first; edit later!”—Ruth Rockafield

Don’t stop, no matter what. Even the best writers wrote ugly when they first started.”—Virginia Burns

“Just get it down on paper first while the thoughts are still flowing. The thoughts don’t have to make sense at first….just be creative.”—MarChessa Taylor

“Ditch your inner editor until the second draft.”—Karen McGrath

“Whatever you have to do, whatever it takes, just finish!”—@valerie63

In a Nutshell…

“Just be brilliant.”—Johne Cook

And One More, for All You Andy Griffith Show Fans:

“I before E except after C, and E before N in ‘chicken.’”—James Lucas Brown

Agree or disagree with any of the advice above? Sound off! And stay tuned for next week’s sequel: “Worst Writing Advice”!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Go with your gut, even if it goes against all the traditional writing wisdom and rules.

    Just because it works for everyone else doesn’t mean it works for you.

    Don’t play it safe; take chances.

    And a contender for the worst advice:

    Any advice that forces you to go against the grain of how you need to write.

  2. Here’s one on revising:
    You don’t have to accept every change someone suggests. Ultimately, it’s your story. Only you know how it will work.

  3. My favorite author did a speech once where he mentioned the rules of writing–“Avoid adverbs–but still use them. Use nothing but ‘said,’ but don’t use ‘said’ because it gets boring…have virtious characters with lots of sin problems!”
    I think the best advice is “There are three rules of writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
    — W. Somerset Maugham

  4. @Linda: Good ones! I’m a firm advocate of listening to our gut instincts. They’re rarely wrong.

    @Jenn: Definitely agree. My rule of thumb is to ignore any suggestion I disagree with – unless a second person suggests the same thing. Then I know I better look at it more closely.

    @Galadriel: Love that quote! The frustrating and beautiful part of writing is that the “rules” are very fluid. What works in one instance won’t always work in another.

  5. Thanks for the mention, K.M. All of these points are valuable.

    I don’t plot well, or rather I plot and it always changes, lol! So now I write and plot later when the basics are in there. Basically I ditch everything I know about writing until after I’ve written the first draft. Then I go in and tidy up the living room with all the good advice.

  6. I don’t know why this didn’t hit me when I saw on FB you were looking for quotes. One friend of mine, who is not actually a writer, said, “Remember, a camel is a horse designed by committee.” That has stuck more than anything. You can’t please everyone! The book, ultimately, must be yours and sound like it is written by you, not a compilation of bits and pieces of things other people like.

    Cool post, KM!

  7. @Karen: I think it’s very valuable to read the “good” advice of everyone, and then to realize that not everything will work for everyone. We have to pick and choose what will work best in our own processes.

    @Kat: Definitely agree – which is one of the reasons I keep my stories very private until I finish the first draft.

  8. Best writing advice I ever got came from the NaNo forums – it only struck me really hard later, so I didn’t take note of who said it. Thank you, anonymous writer! That person simply said: You can’t edit a blank page.

    And it’s as simple as that, really. Every time I’m not sure I’m headed in the write direction, or I’m having a crisis, I remind myself that I can’t edit a blank page, so I’d better get something down on that page.

  9. I think they’re all terrific, even the advice shared in this “comments” section.

    My favorite is Johne’s “Just be brilliant.” Now that’s a goal to strive for!!!

  10. “Whatever you have to do, whatever it takes, just finish!”—@valerie63

    This one is screaming at me right now. Just what I needed to hear today.

  11. @Amie: That’s fabulous. Writing is all about, well, writing. We forget that sometimes!

    @Linda: That was one of my favorite’s too.

    @V.V.: Glad you found something useful. Now get cracking on that manuscript!

  12. I loved what Steve Laube recently said: every word written on Facebook is a word not written on thy manuscript.

    Boy, that’s a reality check. LOL

  13. I once figured up how many words I’d written on Twitter. It was enough for two books. And that was last year!

  14. Just finish. I love that one. It’s pretty much the best advice out there. Because if you never finish there’s no chance you’ll ever make it.

  15. Discipline is very possibly the most important skill any writer can possess. Grit and guts – gotta have ’em to survive in this business.

  16. When creating a story starts to look like a monumental task, I remember the advice author Ann Lamott’s dad gave to her younger brother. Faced with a huge report on birds (due the following day), the boy was feeling paralyzed by the task ahead. His dad’s advice?

    “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

    Somehow, when I’m feeling similarly paralyzed, these words serve to calm me down. I remember that all I have to do to write a story is put one word down in front of the other.

  17. The thought of writing an entire story – or, worse, an entire novel – is daunting. But it’s just one word after another. Anne Lamott’s book is full of encouragement.

  18. I especially liked the “Learn how to use ALL of your senses in descriptions, not just sight and hearing.”—Liberty Carty Speidel
    one. I’m always just describing what you could hear and see, I’m going to go and apply that adive now 😀

  19. Smell seems to be one of the most overlooked senses – and yet experts say it’s the one linked most closely to memory. It’s a good one for writers to utilize.

  20. These are all great tips! I’ve recently started listening to audio-books to catch up on reading while working out, etc., as I find myself equally glued to the television to learn about the art of complex character and plot creating and integration. I find audio books have a long way, and with the right voice, emphasizing the right words, it can be easier to point out what you’re missing. I suppose that falls in line with “read what you write out loud.”

    In addition, I’m finding that if I don’t have a smile on my face while writing a particular scene, than it’s probably not working, and the reader will probably have and equal or worse reaction.

    Thanks for this great post – wonderful refresher as I head into re-write hell ; )

  21. These are all great tips! I’ve recently started listening to audio-books to catch up on reading while working out, etc., as I find myself equally glued to the television to learn about the art of complex character and plot creating and integration. I find audio books have a long way, and with the right voice, emphasizing the right words, it can be easier to point out what you’re missing. I suppose that falls in line with “read what you write out loud.”

    In addition, I’m finding that if I don’t have a smile on my face while writing a particular scene, than it’s probably not working, and the reader will probably have and equal or worse reaction.

    Thanks for this great post – wonderful refresher as I head into re-write hell ; )

  22. These are all great tips! I’ve recently started listening to audio-books to catch up on reading while working out, etc., as I find myself equally glued to the television to learn about the art of complex character and plot creating and integration. I find audio books have a long way, and with the right voice, emphasizing the right words, it can be easier to point out what you’re missing. I suppose that falls in line with “read what you write out loud.”

    In addition, I’m finding that if I don’t have a smile on my face while writing a particular scene, than it’s probably not working, and the reader will probably have and equal or worse reaction.

    Thanks for this great post – wonderful refresher as I head into re-write hell ; )

  23. I’m not a fan of fiction audio books, mostly because I dislike having a narrator interpret the words for me. But you’re absolutely right that *listening* to words read out loud gives us a whole new perspective. I always have my computer read my work aloud once or twice.

  24. This one fits nicely with a writer’s independent spirit–never follow a rule off a cliff. Seems to work for me.

  25. I like your way of putting that: simple and evocative!

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  27. My personal fav is actually by my brother “If you want to pursue writing, try to know everything. Read about all the stuff out there, even the ones that seem unnecessary. Like, you should know all the process of cooking theoretically, even if in reality you can’t even handle a spoon.”

  28. As an ML for NaNoWrimo, one of the things I’ve always told my Wrimos and it’s the thing that’s stuck with me the most, I think, is that each word is a victory. Not everyone sits down and actually writes down the words in their head. And especially not everyone finishes a novel. So even trying is a feat in and of itself. If we keep thinking that, then we’re bound to get somewhere.

    Then of course, there’s the NaNo advice of “editing is for December-January!”

    Before I started NaNo in 2013, I had attempted several novels. Never finished one. It wasn’t until I focused on the goal of getting those words out that I finally was able to finish it. Since I’ve been learning from you, Katie, I am finding things to make it easier and easier and for that I am eternally grateful! I can’t express how truly grateful I am for that. But I’m not sure if I would have gotten to this point without NaNo either and their “go for it” attitude.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s fab! I’ve never done NaNo myself, but I’m a big fan of its results.

      • I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t even realize what NaNo WAS for the longest time XD I thought it was just something on the calendar, so to speak, like poetry month is in April or there’s a week of appreciation for nurses. It wasn’t until I did some Googling that I finally figured out what it was. It’s been wonderful. The community itself is great.

        Writing 50k words in a month is tough, but at least I now know that I can do it. And I’ve found myself getting better each time. While I don’t think I can keep up with that pace all year round, it has definitely helped in knowing the kind of writing routine that does work all year round.

  29. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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