5 Misconceptions About Writing That I Used to Believe

5 Misconceptions About Writing That I Used to Believe

5 Misconceptions About Writing That I Used to BelieveAre we modern-day writers lucky or what? We enjoy unprecedented access to the wisdom of all the writers who have gone before us. I’m not kidding. the wealth of excellent information at our fingertips is insane. But you don’t get nothing for nothing, and the something we’re exchanging for all this great advice is a pretty hefty load of misconceptions about writing.

Just about every writer I know, myself included, has gone through an early period of hair-yanking frustration, in which we were trying to kneel and learn at the feet of the masters, but they kept giving us advice that:

a) we hated.

b) we didn’t understand.

c) we just plain couldn’t make work.

Hence, the almost universal phase called Writers Against the Stupid Rules Because They Obviously Don’t Work.

But the problem isn’t with “the rules.” Like I said, there’s so much great writing advice out there, you could fill your pool and swim in it (after you become rich and famous and have a pool, of course). The problem is two-fold.

1. On the one hand, there is certainly some very bad advice floating around out there—some of it from very excellent and respected writers.

2. And then, on the other hand, there’s perfectly good advice that doesn’t always mean what it seems to mean, and which new writers notoriously misunderstand and religiously apply in all the wrong ways.

Both are equally dangerous.

5 of the Sneakiest Misconceptions About Writing

Today, I want to look back at some of the most insidious misconceptions about writing that I have fallen prey to during my career, so you, in turn, can avoid getting sucked into their undertow.

1. Write What You Know (aka, Have an Adventurous, Amazing Life—or Else)

“Write what you know” has almost become the poster child for abused and misused writing advice.

On the surface, it’s solid. After all, how can you write what you don’t know? And yet, when writers first hear this simple little line, you can usually see them deflate. “You mean I have to throw all the dragons and dukes and debutantes out of my story?”

A few of us may well lead extraordinary lives. A few of us may want to relive those extraordinary lives on the page (perhaps even in memoir). But most of us are admittedly prosaic. We make eggs for breakfast, do the laundry, mow the lawn, take the dog out, watch Netflix serials, and go to bed. Every so often, maybe we’re lucky enough to journey far away and have adventures on a tour bus or get sunburned hiking a national monument. But even that isn’t exactly dragons and dukes and debutantes, is it?

Honestly, “write what you know” has got to be one of the dumbest bits of advice ever conceived. No doubt it was intended as a well-meaning prodding toward proper research. But that’s not what it sounds like. What it sounds like is: stop with all the imaginary flights of fancy, grow up, and do write about serious and important things.

Thanks very much, but no thanks.

Believe This Instead:

The irony here is that the reason any of us becomes a writer is thanks to an incredibly rich inner life that grants us an incredibly rich perception of the outer world. Our commitment shouldn’t be writing what we know, but rather to knowing as much as possible.

In her “5 Bits of Writing Advice,” P.D. James gave writers a much better idea to live up to:

Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer—however happy, however tragic—is ever wasted.

2. Never Consciously Apply Theme

The idea here is that theme is supposed to find you, rather than the other way around. If you’re really a writer of any worth, you’ll prove it by being able to airily and effortlessly float to through the metaphysical land of Deep, Meaningful, and (Always, Always, Always) Abstract Philosophies. You must be so deep in this place of spiritual genius that your theme wells up from your narrative like oil from Texas. And when it does, you’re more shocked than anyone: “My, who could ever have guessed that’s what this story was really about?”

Honestly, in the beginning, when I was first informed that the only way to approach theme was not to approach it, I about had a panic attack. The only way to be brilliant was not only to not try to be brilliant but to not know anything about being brilliant? Okay, sure, anything you say, Mr. Writing Expert, sir.

Now, I say: BUH-lo-nee.

Granted, theme is one of the highest of high concepts in writing. It’s hard to do right, and very easy to do wrong in a way that comes across as on the nose and preachy. It’s no wonder some writers—even masterful writers—are scared of it. They let their subconscious do all the heavy lifting, never looking straight at the subject, and just hoping and praying it’s all going to turn out.

Maybe it’ll turn out, maybe not.

Believe This Instead:

The idea that you can’t consciously and logically approach and create your theme is not only wrong, it’s crippling. Theme joins with plot and character to create the trifecta foundation of all stories. You deliberately work on your plot and character, don’t you? So why would you leave that third leg of your foundation out in the cold?

The reason this bit of advice gets perpetuated is because when you create plot and character, you’re also creating theme, whether you realize it or not. This is why writers discover themes “effortlessly” arising from their stories. They were working on it all the time; they just didn’t realize it.

But how much better to bring poor Brother Theme in out of the dark and give him a place at the table? When you’re able to create plot, character, and theme in concert, all three elements are all the stronger and more cohesive. You lose nothing by approaching theme deliberately. You only enhance your ability to portray it adroitly.

3. You Can’t Be Logical About Writing

Lie That Tells a Truth John DufresneYou hear this one all the time. It comes in a variety of forms, everything from “rules can’t govern art” to “outlining will kill your creativity” to “your inner editor is plotting to assassinate you in your sleep.” We hear it all the way from on high, from some of the greatest writers of our time, so of course we have to believe it, right? In his nearly classic writing book The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne has this to say:

If you’re having trouble, that means you’re thinking. You’re being logical, critical.

Sounds totally reasonable, right? Except, according to this, we’re not supposed to be reasonable. It sounds like we’re supposed to throw our logical, analytical left brains out the window. After all, those infernal internal editors of ours just cause so many problems. They make us miserable.

That’s why (as I sometimes tease) we tie them up and lock them in the closet while we write. Everything just becomes so much easier and more intuitive when we run on instinct instead of logic.

Believe This Instead:

That’s true enough as far as it goes. Writers must rely on intuition, creativity, the subconscious, and what I call the writer’s greatest weapon: gut instinct.

But that’s only half the arsenal necessary to write good stories. If you chuck the other half of your brain, the best case scenario is that you have to work twice as hard to achieve your full potential.

Barring logic from the writing process is not the answer. Rather, you must learn to harmonize creativity and logic into a perfectly synchronized piston, pushing and pulling, giving and taking, at every moment of the process, to give you both the power of creativity and the precision of logic.

What Dufresne is really recommending is to avoid overthinking. Don’t use your brain to the exclusion of your imagination. But don’t go so far in the other direction that you become incapable of looking at the (very logical) equation of story and using your analytical conscious brain to recognize and correct problems.

4. You Have to Be Either a Plotter or a Pantser

I gravitated to outlining almost from the beginning (although I didn’t develop the full-blown outlining process I now use until I started my sixth novel, Behold the Dawn). Like many writers, I just intuitively knew which camp my brain fit into: the logical and patient plotters versus the spontaneous and innovative pantsers (aka writers who “write by the seat of their pants,” or without an outline).

But, oh boy, I had no idea the firestorm I was walking into. I soon discovered both these camps were adamant their way was the only right way to create art. I fired my own round of bullets in this war, before nobly taking the high moral ground of pacifistic tolerance: “Everybody’s got to do it their own way. No one way is better than the other. There is no one road to proper storytelling.”

Believe This Instead:

I still believe that. What I don’t believe anymore is that there is actually such a thing as a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Even though writers certainly fall into general categories of right- or left-brain approaches to the writing process, we’re only distracting ourselves from true productivity with this idea that every writer must be either a plotter or a pantser. Or, you know, a plantser—just to make sure we include all of you lonelies who don’t get to play with the rest of us in one of our exclusive clubs.

Except… are you the lonelies? Or are you the ones who really understand how things work?

I have come to believe we’re all plantsers. We all plot; we all pants. We all use our logical brains; we all use our spontaneous imaginations. Yep, even me—and you don’t get much more outline-y than my fat, in-depth outlines.

Plotting and pantsing are not exclusionary approaches. Rather, they are both necessary tools for bringing our fictional visions to life. By trying to box our processes into comforting camps of camaraderie, we may actually be stunting our ability to use the full range of available techniques.

5. You Must Write Fast

I still remember reading the following bit of advice from no less than Stephen King:

The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.

I probably turned a little pale, maybe even felt a little sick to my stomach. I know I definitely squirmed. I’ve never written a book in three months in my life. I wrote my 1920s aviation-adventure novel Storming in something like five months, but that was just the first draft; that didn’t count the other five months of outlining.

Still, this speedy approach to writing has obviously served King and other bestselling writers well.

Indeed, if you start investigating the habits of those authors lucky enough to be part of the “boom” of legitimately successful indie novelists, the one thing you almost invariably find is an incredible output of work—at least a book a year, perhaps even a book a month.

Believe This Instead:

I’ve been a hustler all my life. I run 110 mph all day, every day, the speedometer needle always in the red, churning out checkmarks for my to-do list at a crazy rate. But interestingly enough, not with my fiction. My fiction I write slow and steady. The very thought of having to speed it up slays me (and not in the good way).

This year, I’ve been learning some hard lessons about the destructiveness of “hustle” in general, learning how to take better care of myself, to slow down and enjoy the journey of life. But the thing I find particularly interesting is that the only area of my life in which I didn’t have to learn this lesson also just happened to be the most important area of my life: my writing.

Instinctively, I somehow realized from the beginning that forcing myself to up productivity on my fiction would destroy my enjoyment and fulfillment in the process. It’s perhaps the only area of my life in which I (mercifully) intuited that productivity is not the point.

So what is the point? Well, honestly, that depends on the writer. For me, I’d say the point is undeniably the journey itself—the exploration, the evolution, the experience. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with writing fast. If that’s the speed you run at, slowing yourself down may prove just as destructive for you as undue speed would for me.

What’s important to realize is that what works for Stephen King won’t necessarily work for me and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You must be honest and brave enough to find your own path to fulfillment and success in your writing.

***

Writing misconceptions are just part of the game. We can’t avoid them. We can’t blame other well-meaning (and sometimes just misunderstood) authors for trying to share what’s worked for them. But we must be aware of the truth behind every statement.

Get into the habit of doing a gut-check on everything you’re told about the writing process. Be warned that just because you don’t like a bit of advice doesn’t mean it’s not true. But if something someone says (even if she’s your favorite author ever) has you squirming and turning a little green, take note of the cognitive dissonance you’re experiencing.

Don’t try to assimilate advice just because someone says it with conviction. Use your own experiences and understanding to collect the bits that work for you and to incorporate them into your own process in the most meaningful way.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are some of the misconceptions about writing you’ve struggled with and overcome? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Rule of thumb: when a Great Writer says “Don’t think about X,” he means “It’s nice to get yourself (however) to the point where you don’t think about X consciously.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      An excellent rule of thumb.

      • This premise…is it great?…it is a space opera

        A struggling single father moves from planet to planet to over protect his son from the dangers of the galaxy. But when his son is kidnapped and slowly brain washed by a galactic theocracy that wants to exploit his powers, the father must learn to cope with his past and save his son before he loses him foreve

        Thoughts?

        I had a similar plot but the father was distant instead of overly close…where he and his son are a bit estranged…which one is better? And thoughts on the basic premise?

  2. I love your insights. A few days ago I was tutoring my 13 year-old grandson on a story he’s been writing. He complained that he had reached a point where the story wasn’t going anywhere. I asked him where it was supposed to be going. He said he didn’t know. Then I asked him to focus on one word he wanted readers to be thinking about as they read the story. After a while and a few stabs he settled on conformity. Next I asked him what would happen if his main character conformed. He gave me a sensible answer. So I asked the opposite question. He gave me another reasonable answer. Finally, I asked him to describe his vision of his story’s ending. When he finished I said, “Well there you have it — a story about a word that represents one of your passions. Do you think you can fill in the details of what happens to your character as he’s trying to choose between conforming on not?” He smiled and said he thought so. I ended by telling him he’d just learned the importance of knowing his story’s theme and the protagonist’s moral dilemma.

  3. Ms. Albina says:

    Good article as always. Is there a checklist for novellas I mean questions?

    The character descriptions, dialogue, and how the story is spaced.

    Who did your face book page.

    I agree with number 1 of the article about having adventurous story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The structure and “rules” for novellas are no different from those of a novel. The only difference is the novella is shorter.

      As for my Facebook page, I design and run that myself.

      • Ms. Albina says:

        Thank you. Is there a checklist for the structure for novellas or novels and the questions of dialogue, setting, well written characters and the pacing or timing and also so they are not flat characters or bland characters.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          For structure, this post is a good place to start.

          There isn’t so much a checklist for others. It’s just a matter of continual studying, until their execution becomes second nature.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Katie,

            Thank you. I want to write better structure with writing and telling the story.

            My writers name is B.L. Albina who is am going to use when I am published.

        • Ms. Albina says:

          Katie,

          My mer-folk live in a grotto or cavern. How would you describe a grotto or cavern or look at a picture?

          B.L. Albina

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            You might find this post on setting descriptions helpful: Most Common Mistakes Series, Pt. 47: Ineffective Setting Descriptions.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Katie,

            Thank you. I will check. In your stories do you have realms that are island sized?

            In my co-author story there are seven realms with mer-people, elves, fairies, humans, shape shifters, dragons and dwarfs also.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            No, no island realms in my stories.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Okay, I need to name my realms of where the magical creatures are on planet Avanaria.

            The mother goddess and her messenger named Arella live in a palace in the heavens or sky.

            On this planet they have twin suns and twin moons.

            In the co-author book Leilani is first mortal then becomes immortal when it is earned by her and zane.

            Her family lives in a grotto not a palace. Leilani is a seven foot tall mermaid who lives the sea but when she is need to go somewhere if they are sick she goes.

            She is also a healer or becomes some who heals with herbs and healing stones.

            There is no techicology on the planet which magic since it is magical.

            What do you see when you write about magic or a magical place?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Depends on the type of magic. I usually collect mood boards on Pinterest.

      • Another misconception: you need to design an angle. Yesterday I was wrestling with an angle for a Facebook advertisement for my freelance marketing work (including writing!) And I went for a swim to forget about the problem. As I walked back to the shower a scene hit me from Jeanette walls brilliant memoir “the glass castle”. She was talking with her mum who was homeless on the streets and Jeanette asked her “what do I tell my friends about you?’ Her mum said “tell them the truth – that ought to be enough”. So that’s what I’m writing now.

  4. Brilliant.

  5. I love all the conflicting and weird advice, because you really get a sense of how different all these writers are from each other, and how many different types of people it takes for the world to have such wonderful stories. Brain Pickings has an amazing collection: (https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/03/advice-on-writing/)

    I like the random stuff, like Hemingway’s advice to write the first draft in pencil, or Muriel Spark’s advice to work with a cat in the room. (Which Hemingway probably did, too, come to think of it.)

    Usually, I find the advice itself to be interesting to read, and usually there’s a strong correlation between how much the advice resonates with me and how much I enjoy the advice-giver’s own stories. At some point, I think, it’s okay to realize that certain bits of technical advice are geared toward writing a different kind of story from what you are writing. Certain techniques may be totally effective for what they trying to do, but not appropriate for your personal style. The beauty of fiction is that it can do a million different things — it can put you in a character’s shoes, or it can detach you from an emotional situation so you can analyze it, or it can examine a social problem, or set up a logical puzzle. Or all or none of the above. Not every story is going to be appealing to everyone.

    You can work with a dog in the room instead of a cat. Or no animals at all, as bleak as that sounds to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I believe this is an excellent approach. It’s an open mindset that basically turns your brain into a sieve, filtering through all the info out there, let go of what doesn’t stick, and straining out only the stuff you’re currently in a place to use.

      • I like your phrase “currently in a place to use”. Some stories won’t allow themselves to be told when we necessarily want them to. They come out a long time later.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          It really depends on the author and her current position within the writing journey as well. I actually don’t regret having struggled with any of these misconceptions. They were necessary stepping stones within my education. They helped me refine my process, ask the right questions, and ultimately grow in confidence as I overcame them.

  6. Hear, hear! Some great advice here, about taking advice with a big old chunk of salt. When I first started reading the advice of Famous Authors, I had the same reaction: oh no, I’m doing it *wrong*! But you’re absolutely right: what works for Stephen King may not work for you. So now, whenever I read some Famous Author saying, “This is the one method that works!” I append, “… for me! It may or may not work for you, but hey, maybe give it a try and see.”

  7. I don’t have a theme, but I will create one. I am a pantser who after 600k words believes he should have an organized chart describing chapters to keep track of names, dates and places. I don’t write fast but I do write steady every day. I write what I want to be or see or do, not what I wake up to each morning.

  8. Great article. It reflects my feelings. Write what you know – this, of course, refers to the emotions of life. Emotions are universal. We all know the sorrow of losing a loved one, the adrenaline rush of danger, a heart overflowing with love and the urgency of passion. THIS is what we know. Emotions are what grab and hold the reader. As for LIVING our adventures ~ Well, if we held out for that, who would ever write a murder mystery or a historical novel about the Crusades? Hmm?
    I wrote my four historical novels before I ever read about “rules”. Thank goodness. On Facebook we continually see the despair of new writers getting hung up on the rules instead of just writing the story in their hearts.
    So I’m glad you put these “rules” into a logical context. If only you could spread this word out to those despairing souls who are stuck on page 1, forever searching for the perfect opening sentence.
    Love ya, Katie !!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s a sad irony of the writing life that we although we need the support and guidance provided by the “rules,” we are still so often overwhelmed by them instead of feeling their benefits. I think there’s just a period of the learning process in which we all seem to have to struggle in finding the balance.

  9. Oh, poor Brother Theme! Thanks for bringing him to the table. 🙂

  10. I like how you break down the 5th one about writing fast. One of my favorite writers takes about three years per book, and I wouldn’t rush her no matter how ansty I can get about the next book in the series.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You can’t rush art, I always say!

    • I feel like I basically take dictation from my imaginary friends, and things like themes and outlines mean nothing to them. They just want me to tell their stories, and I often write down details that mean nothing to me at the time, but prove critical to the story later on. Example, I once wrote a story about a woman who was carrying boxes out of a bar after her brother’s band played there, and tripped over a famous person apparently passed out in the alley behind it. I wrote, “There was no one else around except a homeless person rummaging through a nearby dumpster.” Many chapters later, the character told me that was the person who drugged him, but I had no clue. How can I apply outlining when I don’t ever know what’s going to happen? Am I just crazy, or, as I suspect, is writing its own kind of insanity?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        It’s a misconception (albeit, a fun one) that our characters and stories control us rather than the other way around. What we really mean when we say that is that our subconscious is surprising us. Learning how to harness the power of an outline, or plotting, or story theory, is really all about learning how to harmonize our conscious understanding with our subconscious instinct.

  11. M.L. Bull says:

    Definitely heard of some of these misconceptions, particularly #1 and #4. I can say for sure that I’m a planster. I might outline some things, but I have the tendency to start writing my first draft or chapter openings, even despite not having my whole novel outlined completely. Then if I get stuck, I’m back outlining again. Lol. 😄

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Writing is a balance–in all things. Back and forth, back and forth, like the ebb and flow of the tides.

  12. Great post! It was very helpful.

  13. K.M. Will you marry me? This post is key. Soooo important. Wow. Thanks for bringing this up and writing about it so eloquently. I battle a misconception every time I want to send out my manuscript — reckoning it doesn’t need an editor. It always needs an editor! And not just a read-through by my wife. Oh, yeah, I already have a wife. Who is smart, as well. Okay, it seems I just have a thing for smart women. Cheers.

  14. Hannah Killian says:

    I don’t think I follow any writing rules to a T. I just write when inspiration strikes and I try to keep writing until I can’t think of anything else. Then it’s back to the drawing board!

    Also, that dukes and dragons and debutantes line had me thinking, “Hey, Dragons and Dukes sounds like a title for a – oh no, you don’t! You already have 18 stories in progress, Hannah, you don’t need-

    Brain: When a young duke discovers a dragon, the first to be seen in years, he also comes across a hermit, who offers to train him how to ride. While training, he discovers a lost princess with incredibly long hair and a terrible truth about his supposedly dead father.

    Me: . . . . really?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love your brain. 😀

      • Hannah Killian says:

        I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂

        Another new idea I recently got is about a villain who finds out his daughter is alive and living with former friends. He decides he’s going to be the one to raise her and since she’s only 5, she’s still in the bubble of innocence, so she doesn’t know just who her father is and what he’s done. However, just before she turns 13, he thinks about how he wants what’s best for her and realizes that maybe it’s letting her go back to her adoptive family. She’s a bit torn about this though, because she’s grown close to her real father and he to her. But back she goes and then she gets kidnapped by the really big bad and her father comes to rescue her and he might die in a heroic sacrifice.

        Might. I haven’t decided yet. If I even go with it, of course. It’s still in the potential stage.

    • J.M Barlow says:

      Ugh this is what my brain does to me. My solution: I jot down the idea, and I add it to my gigantic world for later. I turn things like this into writing exercises to get the creative juices flowing.

      It actually took me a long time to settle on a project. Oddly enough, it’s not part of that world. Kind of.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        As Margaret Atwood says, “You don’t always know when you’re ready to write a story. But you always know when you’re *not* ready.”

  15. I’m a planster. Your influence involved in my intuition. 😉

  16. I wrote a book about mermaids. There’s no way I would have known about that except by research. So much for #1. I had a general outline of where I wanted my story to go, but I decided to fill in the details as I wrote. I was a combination plotter and pantser. So much for #4. As for #5, I wrote my novel during NaNoWriMo, an event each November where you’re challenged to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. I would amend that to say the first draft of a novel. I wrote the novel in November, took December off for holiday commitments, then came back to it in January. I had a lot of revisions. I had to rework some scenes to get them to work with the theme (#2), and tried to make sure the story spunded logical (#3). I hate watching TV shows or movies with huge plot holes. I finally finished about a year later.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You, sir, are walking proof we don’t need any of these misconceptions. 🙂

  17. I will NEVER forget the day my editor said, “Read this book” and sent me a link to Outlining Your Novel. I was a pantser of the worst kind (I really thought I just acted as a transcriptionist for my characters). I was sure I wouldn’t ever “plot” anything.

    But all those questions in that book… I made that hideous spreadsheet of them. And then I started filling it out with an idea I’d just come up with the day or two before. I answered every stinkin’ question. I knew without hesitation.

    And that’s when I realized that even “pantsers” are usually “plotting” they just do it in their heads when they aren’t “looking” sometimes. And you know, that story changed a few months ago. I got a better idea for it. WOOT!

    But if said editor hadn’t told me to read it, I would have missed ou on my best writing process now. Thanks to you!

  18. KM Weiland uses her intuition –yea! Well, I DO know that NOW, but not a couple years ago. “Stay away from that Weiland blog; all that scarily strict structure. Every scene has to have conflict AND further the plot?” — yup, there went the joy of writing. But of course now I know that this was revision advice. And it’s only during the litmus test of revision that I can ever hope to develop a writer’s senses that may one day let me feel free and creative even as I have a mind towards a very solid plot structure going in.

    It’s not enough to assure people that no writer’s process is like any other’s; your OWN process is never quite the same way twice. If you’re lucky.

    Thanks; you capture that nebulous advice about theme particularly well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah! :p I think the logical side of writing *can* be overwhelming and scary at first. But once you calm your brain down and get into it enough to start understanding some of it, it has the potential to actually increase the enjoyment and fun of writing.

  19. Wow, the best writing advice and suggestions I have read this year. You have cleared up so many of the misconceptions that make me feel like a complete failure sometimes. I like your emphasis on balance. I thought last year I was a pantser, that is until I finished a small 28,000 word first draft and realized it had started reasonably well and then had gone pretty well nowhere from there with a wishy-washy ending. Now I realize I can actually make the story exciting (and hopefully absolutely brilliant) by outlining.

    I breathed a sigh of relief when you said your 6 months of writing Storming was preceded by 6 months of outlining. I find that a really rewarding outlining process can be painfully slow!

    Since I am alone up here in the Arctic, about 1000 miles from the nearest blood and flesh writing group, I cling to your every suggestion. Keep up the great work!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s interesting, but the longer I write, the more and more I find myself enjoying the process. In the beginning, there was a part of me that wanted to rush through it as fast as I could to get through the pain as quickly as possible. :p But these days, I want to savor the process (which, of course, is not to be confused with procrastination). For a writer, it’s the stuff of life.

  20. J.M Barlow says:

    Yeah, I won’t claim any amount of success at the moment, but my gut tells me these rules belong in the same place as the contents inside my gut. I mean really? Don’t think about theme? Theme -is- the story. It’s the thing the inner and outer conflicts are both hinging on and trying to explain.

    Write what I know? Okay.. Wait until you see the first page of my graphic novel. You’ll be wondering where I learned about this.

    Can’t be logical? Where’s the logic in that? If your story has no logic, it has no credibility. It may still be fun, but talk about suspension of disbelief…

    Like I say, I have tweaked around with the outlines of several of my stories before really deciding which one to push, and I have to say that outlining has had varying effects. But when I write without one, I burn out and lose track of where things are going. I may start jotting down notes for later and things start falling apart. Outlines are cohesion.
    Everybody will have a different approach to it, and that approach will always undergo changes over time, and vary by story.

    The speed I write at is a variable that is affected by many other variables.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yeah, honestly, the reason so many writers *hate* rules like this is because they create that twingy feeling of cognitive dissonance in our guts. Taken at face value, they simple don’t make sense–and yet, we’re expected to wrangle them around and somehow try to make them work.

      • J.M Barlow says:

        Thankfully we have you to debunk them (or at least explain them) for us less experienced writers. Just as valuable as your teaching us is your un-teaching us the bad habits and misconceptions.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Just hang around for ten more years. I’m sure I’ll discover half the stuff I believe right now are misconceptions too. 😉

          • J.M Barlow says:

            Concepts are subjective. Misconceptions have a tendency to be portrayed as rules. What artist obeys rules?

  21. Katie, thanks for the boost of confidence! As a former English major, guess how many rules I had to study, learn and teach? As a writer, there were just as many rules to follow. Personally, I have my own number one rule. I need to be imaginative and clever enough in my writing to entertain my readers. It’s easy for me to do because I am absolutely passionate about the rule writers must follow. We have to use just 26 letters to form words that entice and intrigue an audience. An audience that includes me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I love writing rules. 🙂 The only reason they’re “rules” is because they’re established patterns that centuries of storytelling have shown us *work* in creating resonant fiction. What I don’t love are ideas that don’t work–or that are stated in such a way that they give people entirely the wrong impression. Sadly, there’s quite a few of those floating around out there!

  22. Caleb Kelly says:

    Wow…juat an incredible read. I just self published my first novella and while it is not the traditional format, I really enjoyed it. It was like writing a movie.

    I have always believed myself to be a pantser. I used to say, and still do to a degree, “I don’t know what will happen next, but my hands do. They do the thinking.” That is only partially true now. Now I need a direction to go in or else I am lost.

    Thanks for your insight. I want tonuse them to grow as a writer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Congrats on your book! Writers often joke that they don’t write the story: the characters are really the ones in charge. This *is* funny, and I think we all relate to it. But I’ve always felt it’s a misleading notion as well, because, of course, it’s entirely untrue. Our characters are just manifestations of our own minds. When they surprise us, it’s really our subconscious that’s surprising us. I believe that when we’re able to claim that fact and then start working toward a harmony of effort between subconscious instinct and conscious understanding, that’s where true mastery emerges.

  23. Always so inspiring, K M. And that you answer ‘every’ comment. You’re too cool. Thank you!

  24. Joe Long says:

    I outline but I do it in my head – where I tend to do most of my work. These days, especially as age becomes more apparent, I reluctantly write things down and as well try to jot down thoughts as they happen lest they disappear before being needed. Not existing yet on paper limits the size which necessarily limits the amount of detail.

    I usually try to think of an interesting premise. Having that, what happens to these people? How does it all come out in the end? If not already specified, how did they get together and in this situation in the first place? That gives me the major plot points and I’ll work out a series of scenes. At the beginning of each scene I stop to review what’s supposed to happen and ponder what it means to the rest of the story. Once those details are clear I start into writing the scene.

    Every time I write, I’m driving the plot, where I define that as knowing what’s coming next and how it all ends, so that at each step I am putting the characters where they need to be to eventually lead everything to the climax of the story. I can’t do that adequately if I don’t know all the future plot points.

    The scenes that leave me the most satisfied are where I can work in many items that help build on what’s to come. In isolation they don’t mean anything, but later they’re a data point in a logical string. The TV show Frasier is great at this. No trivial event goes unused as it becomes a prerequisite for the main gag by the end of the episode.

    So perhaps it is possible to outline without every writing down the outline. All you need to have in your head is the remaining plot points, the remaining scene list, and the details of the current scene.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, definitely possible to outline without “conventional” tools.

      In related news, I used to think the only good idea was an idea I could remember. However, I no longer believe that. :p

      • Joe Long says:

        “I used to think correlation implied causation. Then I took a statistics class. Now I don’t.”

        “Sounds like the class helped.”

        “Well, maybe.”

  25. ShennonDoah says:

    The more I write and the more I research how to write, I better understand my style and how to improve it. K.M., your advice and books have been of utmost assistance to me. I can’t wait to complete my WIP and to share how much I’ve learned. Thanks for all your help!

  26. Loved this article. I enjoy reading about other authors’ motivations and methods just because I can glean insights from each of them, often when facing various challenges of time and family life. As well as checking in on here regularly (I love your love of writing) I look forward to the Saturday write up in The Guardian
    ‘My Writing Day’. They have a great variety of different authors and their approaches are so different – always something to make you feel better about your own habits!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Glad you’re enjoying the posts! And, yes, I find it endlessly valuable to read other writers’ thoughts on the process. Even if I don’t find all of them useful, there’s always *something* to be gleaned.

  27. I think “write what you know” doesn’t reflect your physical experiences, but your mental ones. It’s good advice for someone who’s a little lost. Write what you know about despair, joy, how it feels to be waiting for a bit of important news… For some, first writing what they HAVE experienced might give them the confidence to go out and imagine internal situations they have never been in.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      True, but “write what you know” goes beyond even this. For example, not all of us have yet experienced the death of a parent or close loved one–but that doesn’t mean we can’t *imagine* how it would feel well enough to write about it authentically.

  28. I just found your books on Amazon and ordered 4. I wrote and published my first fantasy fiction book a few weeks back (without an outline, oops!) It’s called Darkwater and it’s on Amazon, Booknook and Kobo http://www.amazon.com/dp/B071RJ73K2.
    Unfortunately, my first book has suffered from little sales.
    I want to thank you for helping us, beginners. If you ever have time to take a look at my book I would LOVE feedback. Anyway, thank you again for your blog and books.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the site. And I wish you all the best with your book!

  29. I love this post. I agree with everything you wrote.

  30. “Four wheels marked each corner of the base. ”

    That’s sixteen wheels!

    Also, where you used dashes, I would have used commas. Dashes make the sleep-mode seem to be an important qualifier to the existence of the screen.

    And I would have used “a pedestal” rather than “the pedestal” because “the” is used for something that has already been introduced to the reader (unless it’s used with “of” or. Something similar). Exercise: Find the biggest dictionary you can, and look up the word “the.” I am not kidding. There are some subtleties in the specific ways it is used.

  31. Thank you so much! #5 – what a relief! Slow and steady does it. I SO agree that the process has to be enjoyable! Rushing through the book just doesn’t cut it for me. Admittedly, I finished my first novel – from outline to trad publication – in three months just by writing 1,000 words a day. I made a rule for myself to write “a scene a day” (my scenes are generally around 900-1200 words) and it worked just fine. It’s such a relief to hear from you that writing fast isn’t set in stone! Thank you!

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