Learning to Write: The Limitations of Books About Writing

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I’m mentoring a graduate student in writing right now, and together she and I have put together a course on worldbuilding. In addition to having her read several SF/Fantasy novels that demonstrate various approaches to creating worlds or embedding magic systems in our own world, I have also assigned some reading in a couple of books on writing.

No, I didn’t assign her any readings in the Magical Words How-to — it always bothered me when my college professors did that; I believe it’s unethical. Instead, I assigned her several chapters in Melissa Scott’s Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the Science Fiction Novel and Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. But while I didn’t have her read the Magical Words book, it did occur to me as I was working on the syllabus just how many books on writing are out there. In our genre alone, you can find, in addition to our book and the two I assigned, books by Gardner Dozois, Stanley Schmidt, James Gunn, Paul Di Filippo, and R.A. Salvatore, to name just a few. There are several collections of essays on writing in our field, as well as a series of books edited by Ben Bova (of which the Stanley Schmidt volume is a part). And I haven’t even mentioned two of the most famous titles at least tangentially connected to our genre — Stephen King’s On Writing, and super-agent Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. Add in books about writing in other genres or geared for generalists (including the Eudora Welty book Edmund mentioned in Friday’s post), and you’ve got enough instructional texts out there to keep an aspiring writer reading for so long that she’ll never actually WRITE anything.

As a founder and dedicated contributor to this site, and a co-author of How To Write Magical Words, I would never tell you that instructional sites and books are useless. They’re not. But I would caution anyone who is buying such a book or even subscribing to our site to keep his/her expectations realistic. You can memorize every word of Donald Maass’s book, but doing so won’t guarantee that your first or fifth or tenth or hundredth novel will actually “break out.” You could read all of the books I mentioned, devoting a year or two of your life to doing nothing but studying the techniques and recommendations of every writer and editor represented on that list, and still not figure out how to write that novel burning a hole in your chest. Or, conversely, you might ignore every How-To title ever written and still manage to create the next Hugo and/or Nebula winning title in SF/Fantasy.

There is no one right way to do any of this. I know you’ve heard that one before, but it seems particularly relevant for this conversation. No one writer can tell you everything you need to know about writing. “Writers” claiming otherwise (and I’m not implying that any of the authors I’ve mentioned do this) don’t know what they’re talking about. You can read several books and find yourself receiving contradictory advice. In fact, you can read just OUR book and receive contradictory advice, which is sort of the point. Because as we know, (everyone join in) There Is No One Right Way To Do Any Of This.

So then is there really any use in reading an instructional book on writing? Absolutely. Again, the key is not to expect too much. Reading about the creative processes of other people can be enormously useful. Those of you who come to this site every day or every few days know this. The point, though, is not to have any one or two or six people tell you how to write. Rather, the point should be to get you thinking about your own creative process. In other words, the value of these books (and of this site) rests in the conversations they spark, the self-reflection they inspire.

No one can teach you to write your book. No one can whisper secrets in your ear and turn you into the next J.K. Rowling. Art doesn’t work that way. (And, may I add, thank goodness!) But if reading Melissa Scott gets you to think about worldbuilding in a new way, that’s fantastic. If Stephen King’s words about writing lead you to an epiphany about your own character work, then the book was a steal no matter the price you paid for it. If something in How To Write Magical Words helps you establish a working relationship with an agent or editor, then all of us who contributed to the book will feel that we’ve done our jobs.

There is also a flip side to all of this, the dirty secret that the authors of writing How-To books don’t want you to know: The similarities among all of these books far — FAR — outweigh the differences. I’ve been reading the Scott and Card books along with my student, and I’ve been amazed by how much Melissa Scott (a progressive, openly gay woman who writes almost exclusively hard SF) and Orson Scott Card (a socially conservative mormon man who writes fantasy and comparatively soft SF) have in common when it comes to their writing technique. Their novels are nothing alike; their processes on the other hand are more similar than not. I’ve noticed as well, that their advice sounds a lot like what we MWers offer in our book and posts. There may not be any one right way to do this stuff, but there are several well-trod paths.

Which brings me to my final point. If instructional books about writing are most useful for the discussions they prompt, if there is value in thinking about writing collectively, in sharing ideas and methods, then it follows that ALL of us have something to contribute to those conversations. And so I would ask all of you to teach me something about writing today. What is the single most important thing that you have learned about what you do when you sit down to write? It doesn’t have to be something you learned here at MW. In fact, it would be far more valuable to me if it wasn’t. (And, after all, it is all about me . . .) Imagine that a writer with less experience than you have has just asked you for a single piece of writing advice. What would you tell that person?

David. B. Coe
http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://magicalwords.net
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37 comments to Learning to Write: The Limitations of Books About Writing

  • Darn, just one? 😉 Lately I’ve learned a few gems from sword class that feel very relevant to writing. But the absolute number one lesson, I picked up from sheer experience and ten plus years of hanging out in online and in-person writing communities: Don’t spend so much time talking about writing that you don’t get any actual writing done. Yeah, it’s great to connect with other writers, and fun to talk about your work, but none of that is writing. Sometimes I get irked with myself when I notice that I’ve been spending too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

    I have an entire shelf of half-finished writing books for much the same reason.

  • Vyton

    Great post, David. It is very easy for me to settle in with a how-to-write book and rationalize it by saying that it is part of writing, etc. But I would tell someone less experienced than me (if such a person is at all conceivable) this: it’s a lot easier to understand what the author is telling you in the how-to-write book if you have already written a couple of novel-length manuscripts. Read a lot. Write a lot.

  • Guess you pretty much know all this, but what the heck.

    I started writing a long time ago, in a high school not so far, far away…

    I wanted to be a writer back in the ’80s, in my freshman year of high school, when my English teacher, Dr Macioci, told me that I should consider writing as a career. I was already into RPGs and fantasy novels and for a kid writing short spec-fic about my characters instead of my journal entries, that sounded pretty awesome. I started reading all the how-to books and magazine articles back then, but one of the things that was missing from all those was the, “There Is No One Way to Do This” line. So, it was incredibly discouraging when the way it was supposed to work, didn’t work for me. I got frustrated. I thought I was broken. Was I actually cut out to be a writer if this stuff wasn’t working?

    Still, I kept writing. I kept trying the things other writers in the business were using to succeed, and it didn’t seem to help. I finished a couple short things that were terrible, but I slowly, over the years, came to realize, as my work continued to evolve, that no one book is going to make you a successful writer. That it takes practice and finding your own niche. Yes, read the books, but don’t take everything in them as gospel, and definitely don’t feel you have to read them all. Read lots of fiction and pay attention to their layout, style, grammar choices, etc. Take what works for you and toss the rest by the wayside. Blaze your own trail and don’t let anything get in the way of that. Above all, keep writing. The best teacher is time and experience.

  • Great post. I should say that I actually have taught my book on dramaturging Shakespeare in college, because it’s the only one on the subject, and I think there’s value to having a teacher working with his/her own work. It does make me a bit queasy, but it’s not like I’m making money off it. I wouldn’t worry too much about using our book which–as you say–contains a variety of perspectives.

    But I digress. I totally agree with what you are saying here and with the previous commenters. If I were to acknowledge one of the elephants in this particular room I might point out that study can produce skill and craft, but not aptitude, not (dare I say it?) talent. I think in most cases those who are drawn to writing in the first place are talented, but I’ve met would-be writers who seem completely uninterested in (and therefore inexpert at using) language. For me that catch-all “talent” is often about sentence-level writing skill, and maybe it’s more to do with an interest in such things than it is in raw ability. So my advice would be to focus on the words, the phrases, the sentences, how other writers use them. An off the wall suggestion? Read poetry. Write some. Words are, after all, what we do. My 2 cents, of course.

  • One of the biggest things that I think has helped my writing has been my life in the theatre. Reading, producing and performing dramatic literature has helped my dialogue immensely. So while I can’t tell someone to spend a couple of decades playing around in dusty theatres (although I do highly recommend it as being good for the soul, if not the sinuses) I will recommend that people read their dialogue aloud. Words sound different when spoken, and it’s very helpful in getting the words right. You may not want to do this if you write in a coffee shop or other public place, lest the men in white coats pay you a visit.

  • Martin

    Long-time lurker here…

    I like to think of how-to’s (in any field) like chess. Most games start ‘in book’ and go for 10,12,20 moves along tried and true predictable lines. The great players all realize that the real game starts when you go ‘out of book’ and end up in a position never before seen or analyzed. There are more possible combinations of chess moves, and words for that matter, than the number of atoms in the universe. With all those possibilities, of course there is no ‘one way’. But you have to move (or at least learn) ‘in-book’ to get to the point where you can innovate, (Picasso and Pollock come to mind) and pick your moment to make your own book… literally in this case.

  • One of the best ways to learn writing is to actually do it. So How-to’s are a great place to start or to aide your writing, they shuold not be the only thing. You learn most by writing yourself.

  • Great post! I actually did spend a couple years in the early 2000s reading almost every writing how-to book people recommended and/or my local library carried. Out of fifty or so books, I found only about six I felt were either informative or unique enough to buy and/or keep.

    Anyway, as to the single most important thing I do when I sit down and write, that would be to ask the question WHY? “Why is the bad guying doing what he’s doing.” “Why is my character the only one who can stop him.” “Why does magic work like xyz.” “Why would the protagonist confront obvious danger.” “Why … ?” until I understand my world, my characters, and the reason the plot unfolds the way is does.

  • Kelson Lucas

    Solid post. Do not read all the how-to-write. I have fallen into the trap reading how-to-write book as opposed to actually writing a couple of times (I have two in my desk waiting to be read). Still, if there is one thing I would tell to less experienced writer is do not edit your first draft while you are writing it. It’s too easy to end up with a big mess.

  • Lady Ash

    The single greatest piece of advice I would give a new writer is: find a reader who is a reader. Sometimes family is great when you need an ego boost, but if you really want help, you have to find someone who actually reads. It also helps if this person is opinionated enough to tell you what they actually think.

    I’ve read a few of the books you mention and I’m currently reading “By Cunning and Craft”. I find them useful sometimes, but I also find them distracting because I become so busy wondering whether or not I’m following the ‘masters’ that my writing turns to crap. I think at that point I’m trying too hard.

  • Oh oh oh oh (hand in air) oh oh oh!
    It’s sooo simple, but it’s my very own rule-of-thumb.

    Something has to happen every 10 pages.

    I broke in my WIP and for 40 pages, and everything fell flat. Must fix in rewrite. Maybe kill someone off. (I am so freaking blood-thirsty.)

  • Laura, yes! I find that the more I talk about what I do, the less I do it. And though this is not exactly what you were getting at, I also find that when I talk too much about a particular project, it robs the project of some of it’s creative energy. But that’s just me, and I know others feel differently.

    Vyton, hurray for the basics. Write and read — the two things I say most often to young writers when they ask me what they should be doing if they’re interested in writing as a career.

    Daniel, I like that. In a field built entirely on creativity it seems odd that blazing one’s own trail should come as a revelation, but it’s a great bit of advice; too often the business end of things wrings that independence out of us.

    A.J., I love the idea of writing poetry to get back to the basic units of writing — words, phrases, etc. I wrote a good deal of (bad) poetry in college, most of it angst-ridden and prompted by my most recent romantic failure. But it would be fun to get back to it now. Thanks for the idea.

    John, I agree. I would go so far as to say that it’s nearly impossible for me to edit effectively my own dialogue without reading it aloud. Thanks!

  • Martin, thanks for de-lurking. Good to see you here. Love the chess analogy and the idea of “making your own book.” Great contribution to the discussion. Thank you!

    Mark, I totally agree. There is no susbstitute for hands on learning. Write, write, write. We can learn more from the work itself than from anything else.

    Kalayna, that’s great advice. I would avoid many of the problems I encounter in reading my early drafts if I would simply stop and ask “Why?” a bit more often.

    Kelson, a writing teacher of mine from way back referred to that as “retreating into rewrites” and she was right, as you are. Move on. Edit when your draft is done. But don’t stall that forward momentum by revising while still writing the draft.

    Lady Ash, two great points. With respect to readers, I tell aspiring writers to find someone they trust to do two things: 1) not crush their spirit; and 2) not mince words or pull punches. It’s a fine line, but a good reader is worth his or her weight in gold. And I totally agree that spending too much time with How-To books can make us start to question our own process, which is counterproductive to say the least. Thanks!

    Faith, you ARE blood-thirsty, but that’s why we love you. I agree — a plot that languishes for too long in any spot can kill a book. To be clear, for those who might be inclined to take Faith’s blood-lust too literally, “something happening” doesn’t necessarily mean “someone dying”. A revelation in a heated conversation can be “something,” as can a romantic encounter. But the book has to keep moving forward.

  • I love reading all the comments here.

    The one piece of advice that I’ll give comes from a MW discussion that happened over the summer, on which I don’t think I commented at the time–I don’t remember–but I do remember it made me mad. It might take some time to explain, sorry about that.

    Authors were talking about their muses, how their muses annoy them, talk to them (or refuse to), what they look like, etc. And people told (quite funny) stories about them. Then people chimed in with the “why we write” discussion. Almost everyone said “because I can’t not write…” often with a variation of “it’s the only way the characters in my head will shut up.”

    And I felt like Rita Morales in A Chorus Line when she talks about the method acting class. She notes “I felt nothing….” (If you haven’t seen it, she’s discussing a method acting class in which everyone else is saying “I feel the snow” “I feel the speed of the sled” and she felt… “nothing,” and the prof suggested she would never be a real actress.) Like her, when I encounter these stories of muses, etc. I feel like a fraud. Because I don’t feel that way. I don’t have a muse that chats to me. And while giving up writing would hurt, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, or a fundamental destruction of my character. And yet, I say I’m a writer (among other things).

    So here’s my advice: you don’t need to feel like stopping writing would be cutting off an arm (or whatever your favorite body part is) to be a writer. Writing is an act of will–getting up, sitting down, and doing it. That’s what makes a writer. Not the muses, not the need to write, etc. Those may make writing fun, they may make it exciting, they may make you feel special. But to be a writer, you must write.

    So when my students come to me with desire, passion, muses, and whirlwinds of ideas, I encourage them, but they’re nothing without will. So, I’ll say it one more time (stealing AJ’s title as I do so):

    Writing is an Act of Will. If you haven’t got the will, you won’t find your way to being published.

    So when I do it, I do it because I want to be a writer. I enjoy it, etc., but I will myself to do it ’cause, as I said the other day on Kaylana’s post, there are episodes of Castle, of Private Practice, of Project Runway, of Monday Night Football, to be watched. There are conference papers to do, grading, reading (for work and pleasure). So among all that, to sit at the keyboard, to brainstorm, to read more of a how-to book, or to edit–it’s a choice, not an intangible need or desire. It’s a choice.

    Oh, and one other small piece of advice. DO NOT hurt your fingers… will or not, it’s hard to type with a bandaid on the tip of your finger.

  • Lady Ash

    @FAITH

    Do you generally kill off characters with names or is it just a sort of unnamed character whose sole purpose is to enter the story and die?

  • That last part, yeah, don’t hurt your fingers… I also cook. Occasionally the knife likes to remind me it’s sharp, alas… 😉

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Sorry if this is too “broken record”, but for me the best piece of advice parallels that MW mantra and some of the comments here. It is: the more vehemently some piece of writing advice is offered, either by one writer or by the consensus of many, carefully examine whether it is useful advice for YOU right NOW. Most of us understand not to take any ONE source too seriously, but overwhelming consensus can be harder to discredit. Examples include: Don’t edit the first draft, Write fast, Write the first draft for yourself and not for other people, Write every day, I am a writer because I can’t not be. For some people, for a variety of reasons, one or more or all of those statements might completely stifle their creativity or productivity. Certainly *I* have to throw a couple of them out the window else feel convinced I should just give up now. If *I* don’t edit as I write then the accumulated garbage of bad words or plot starts to fog out my brain. For a beginner, ‘write fast’ may be great advice or completely unhelpful. The ‘write every day’ and ‘I can’t NOT write’ mantras can be very discouraging for those who’ve not had time or energy or will to write recently. Some people might need to write to others’ likes or expectations in order to give their writing bounds and structure.
    Know yourself. Take the time to learn yourself, and don’t forget to check back from time to time as your writing evolves. Really BELIEVE the ‘There is no one right way’ motto.
    Favorite quote from “Life of Brian”:
    “You are all individuals!”
    “We are all individuals.”
    “I’m not!”

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Also, as another muse-less writer, I have to second pea_faerie.

  • A few years ago, I made the decision to stop reading writing books. To stop reading writing and publishing blogs (including magical words for awhile). I stopped blogging and doing lots of things that were occupying my limited amount of writing time. I could read about doing what I wanted to do or I could do it. I chose to do it. It was the right decision. Now that I’ve written a few first drafts, I’m taking the time to reacquaint myself with the mechanics as I go through the revision process, but I don’t regret stopping.

    @pea_faerie My muse doesn’t talk to me either. I do, however, hear the dialogue from my stories being spoken out loud as I write most of the time. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but that is the way it works.

  • Emily and Hep, thanks very much to both of you for challenging even the orthodoxies that we inadvertently endorse here on the “There’s No Right Way” Network. Both of you raise a terrific point, and lead me to want to apologize for those moments when the agreement among MWers seems to give the lie to all we say about not being dogmatic. I would add that quite often the words we use get in the way of the sentiment we’re expressing. For instance, for me at least, the notion that I HAVE to write is another way of saying that my will to write is stronger than my will to do other things. Saying it that way isn’t as dramatic or poetic, but it probably would speak to Emily more than “I have to write because if I don’t I’ll curl up, die, and turn to dust right before your eyes.” So thank you for the reminder: We all have different reasons for writing, different ways of getting ourselves in front of the keyboard. Even something as fundamental as that comes down to individualism.

    But I will go out on a limb and say that cutting fingers is bad for any writer who types or uses a pen and paper….

    Lady Ash, I’m going to let Faith answer your question, but I will anticipate her response a bit. There are times when I will kill someone nameless, who just exists to be the corpse in my story IF (and this is big) that sort of anonymous death is integral to the plot. In other words, if I’m writing about the pursuit of a serial killer, for instance, the discovery of another death can be very effective in stirring the plot a bit. On the other hand, I never kill a character JUST for the sake of doing so, or create a character, bring him/her on stage and then kill said person just for a bit of spice, or introduce an action sequence just to make something happen (Faith calls those apple-cart scenes, and can explain them better than I can). You need to keep things moving, but you also need to be true to your plot, your characters, your world, and not start forcing things just because your body count isn’t high enough.

  • Vikki, stepping back in that way can be enormously helpful, and I know many professionals who do the same. There are even times when we here at MW have to get away for a while. We’re glad you’re back, but we also understand that at times our readers need a break from us, just as we need to hole ourselves up with our stories and just write.

  • David — yes. Exactly.
    Lady Ash — yes. What he said.
    :)

  • Fantastic post, David. So true. The thing I’ll add to the conversation (not having read any of the replies before mine and hoping I’m not repeating anyone) is that I think that books about writing are of the most value if you are reading them either while writing an original work of your own or after having done so. That put a writer in a much better position to understand and apply what the book is teaching. There’s a world of difference between “that makes sense on a conceptual level and I’ll try to remember to apply it” and “ooooh, that explains why I was having so much trouble with X. Now I know how to work around it or fix it.” Reading books on writing in a vacuum is like taking cooking lessons without having ever so much as opened the refrigerator to see what’s inside: you can’t possibly comprehend it in a truly meaningful way.

  • Ok, sycophant mode on…Writing blogs like this beat my school writing classes hands down. My writing has improved significantly from the advice I’ve picked up here (brag – I’ve had professional urban fantasy writers tell my my drek is pretty good. I blame y’all.)

    The most recent revelation? It’s ok for me to write in 15 minute spurts. I’m solving problems better.
    My most recent heresy? Something might be more important than writing every day. Daydreaming every day. That’s where I get my story ideas at least.

    My current daydream? I’m picturing all y’all in a wrestling ring while I throw in questions like “pants or plot, can hard work build talent, does quality prose sell books, coke or pepsi.)

    It would be epic. Especially if bloodthirsty Faith had a folding chair.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thanks for the comment and sorry if my comment came off as at all confrontational. Just trying to expand (expound? 😀 ) upon the basic theme.

  • Thanks, Faith.

    Great analogy, Ed, and an excellent point as well. Using the books as a guide to an ongoing process makes all kinds of sense. Thanks.

    Roxanne, thanks for the kind words. Glad MW is helping. I would add that “writing” (to me at least) implies many things beyond merely sitting and typing. Daydreaming IS writing. So is research, brainstorming, worldbuilding, drawing maps for fantasy worlds — all of that stuff “counts” if you know what I mean. As for the wrestling ring — well, that’s a little weird. :)

    Hep, no need to apologize. Your comment came off as honest, which is good.

  • “I’ve met would-be writers who seem completely uninterested in (and therefore inexpert at using) language.”

    I’d sit here with my eyes bugging out, except I know what you mean. That makes as much sense as a potter not being interested in clay.

    To circle back to the craft/talent/muse discussion – I don’t know that I have a muse, but I sure as heck have insomnia and sometimes story telling helps. I also have an innate bent toward story reading and story telling – it seems to be the way I filter the world. Now, I say this not to attack the muse-less but to mention that my urge or hunger or muse or whatever drives me to write has gotten stronger as I practice BIC and as I learn the techniques of my craft. The simple act of working at and consciously studying writing make me more likely to have an idea, not less. It’s not an either or proposition for me; it’s not spontaneous creativity vs slogging work, but work produces creativity and vice versa. The older I get the less I believe at all in the myth of the artist who just feels a work into existence. Instead, I believe in the artist who has honed her craft so well that the connections between thinking and feeling are wide open to produce well crafted expressions of ideas. Like a ballet dancer, she makes it look easy, not because it is ever easy, but because so much work has gone into learning how to make the work happen.

  • The single most important thing? Write more.

    But I like pea_faerie’s and Hepseba’s answers too.

  • Thanks, David. Yes, talking a story to death is definitely part of it, but what I was getting at was spending so much time talking about the craft in general versus *doing* the craft. It’s great to connect with kindred spirits and have fun, but talking isn’t writing. And (this is for me, personally) what right do I have to complain that I’m not making progress if I’ve spent all of my designated writing time chatting with friends?

  • >>Like a ballet dancer, she makes it look easy, not because it is ever easy, but because so much work has gone into learning how to make the work happen.<< Yes, this. Thanks for the comment, Sarah. It takes years of work to get to the place you're talking about, but even while you're on that path, you can start to feel it and use it.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    Laura, those discussions of craft have value. But you know that, and you're right: They can be overdone, and can start to intrude on the time and energy that should be devoted to writing. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Razziecat

    I don’t think there’s any rule more important than “Read more. Write more.” But the other advice I would give an aspiring writer is this: Respect the rules of language. Learn to spell, learn to punctuate, learn how to put words together. Don’t rely entirely on computer spellchecks. Don’t ever think grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., aren’t important. You have to understand the rules before you can break them.

  • Roxanne said My current daydream? I’m picturing all y’all in a wrestling ring while I throw in questions like “pants or plot, can hard work build talent, does quality prose sell books, coke or pepsi.)

    It would be epic. Especially if bloodthirsty Faith had a folding chair.

    Coke, damn it! Coke! Pepsi just doesn’t mix well with rum.

    Faith can have the folding chair – I’ve already made a secret deal ahead of time to dose her tea with tranquilizers. *grin*

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    I have noticed something interesting about studying writing. When I give my writing to people to read, I can tell if they are aspiring writers. There are certain things that modern writing books recommend that regular readers don’t care about at all…but if the person reading my story is a writing student, they have almost invariably accepted these modern style points as if they were grammar rules and will correct my manuscript to try to bring it into accord with what I call “Modern Thriller Writing.”

    This modern style is a good one for some types of books. Reads quickly. Sells well. It’s not good for all kinds of books. And it’s not rules, just style suggestions.

    I think it is important when reading any writing book written later than Strunk and White to remember that it is opinion. And while it might be just the thing for your manuscript…it also might not be.

    That’s why, sometimes, it’s worth it to turn to other books in your field and see how they are actually written, rather than to just depend on writing experts.

    Thanks for the article, David!

  • Razz, I think in this age of e-chat abbreviations and web-induced grammatical sloppiness, your point is particularly important. Thanks.

    I think that with Misty and Faith both in the ring, I’m going to pass. They scare me….

    Jagi, yes. The “No Right Way To Do This” thing seems particularly important here. A little information can be a dangerous thing; it takes years of experience, of experimenting, of trial and error, to fully appreciate that there really aren’t any rules. And I certainly agree that I learn far more from reading other fiction than I do from most instructional texts.

  • There are three gems of advice I received years ago:
    Writing is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration (fancy way of saying BIC), and
    You have to exercise to strengthen muscle, you have to write to strengthen writing, and
    Observe. Sense. Listen. Imagine. Use.

  • Lyn, those are great. Thanks very much for sharing them. I especially like the last one.

  • Back from hiatus: vacation, family visiting, and other stuff.

    Great post, David. There’s a lot of great advice listed above, much of it pertaining to BIC, write, write fast, write often, which would have been my advice.

    I’ll throw out something differently that I was told a while ago. “Don’t revise, relive.” To me this means that instead of being an observer on the outside, writing and revising the details of the character’s adventure, put yourself in the character’s mindset, drop yourself (as the character) into the situation, and let the words spill forth. When I do this, the narrative is deeper and richer than otherwise.

    Cheers,
    NGD