Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: What's the Best Writing Advice You've Ever Gotten?

Mine was from a former college professor, who told me: "There is no thinking except in the writing. There is no writing except in the rewriting."

Share yours in the comments!


  1. The very best writing advice I was ever given, I think, was to read everything out loud. It's helped me so much just to slow down my editor's eye and not miss clunky sentences or missing words.

  2. I believe the best writing advice I ever read (for novels anyway) was posted on Clarissa Draper's blog "Listen to the Voices" just a few days ago.

    I can't seem to figure out how to link to it from here but here's the address:


  3. My mentor/sensei said that 2 things are invaluable to success: Patience and Discipline.

    Be patient, know that all things take time and anything worth doing is worth doing to the best of your ability. Don't get discouraged if it feels like you're not moving as fast as you want to.

    Discipline yourself in your craft. Work at it every day. Hone your skills by constant practice and exercise. Challenge yourself to do better.

    With those two tools, the world is attainable.

  4. As obvious as it sounds, the best advice I've gotten so far comes from Sean Ferrell, whose debut novel, "Numb" comes out in August. Here it is, slightly out of context, but still useful: "One word at a time." Every time I think I can't, or think what I've written is just drivel, I remember those words and they keep me going.

  5. One phrase I always go back to when frustrated...Nothing worth having ever comes easy.

    So true!
    Christi Corbett

  6. My editor tells me to read things out loud. It really helps me see when I'm being too wordy (and she's just to nice to tell me so!)

  7. When asked a variation of the question "how long should I work on a piece?" (aka, "When should I give up?, How do I know when it's 'done'?, etc.), the response from my professor Richard Bausch was:

    "You write and revise until the story sits up and tells you to fuck off."

  8. I've got two, and they're both from James D. MacDonald:

    1. Don't bore the reader.

    2. You have permission to write badly.

  9. My favorite advice comes from E.L.Konigsburg: "Finish!"

  10. 9th grade English teacher: "A piece of writing should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting."

  11. ->Keep Writing

    The exact wording was "Every writer has crap to write out of his system", but it can be summarized as "keep writing".

    Since I discovered the joys of self-edit myself, well, this is the best advice I was given. The more I write, the more I define my style and get better, clearer.

  12. Best advice: Real writers re-write.

    Runner up: Reading your work aloud.

  13. The best piece of writing advice I ever got was to allow myself to just write and not worry about how good or bad it is. It was (and is) very freeing to give myself that permission.

  14. Write everyday. Begin with "Morning Pages" which is 3 pages in long hand, written without stopping - or - 20 minutes of typing without stopping. This practice gets all the crap out of the way and opens the door to writing one-word-at-a-time.

    Also, find the best time of the day when you are most creative then schedule that as your writing time.

  15. Write the book you want to read.

    Don't use two words when one will do.

  16. "Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed."
    - Red Smith (though I would have sworn that Balzac said it originally!)

    “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
    - Winston Churchill

    "I hate writing, I love having written."
    — Dorothy Parker

    Beyond those three. "The best way to improve your writing is to read good writers."
    - me

  17. The 'reading out loud' trick is invaluable, gotta admit.

    My favorite advice, however, was from my English prof in second year: "If you want to be a teacher, stay in school. If you want to be a writer, go write."

  18. Writing until you're finished the piece ... then rewrite ... rewrite ... rewrite ...

    Or, was that "polish"?

  19. My high school English teacher "SWYM" - Say What You Mean.

    And then there's BICHOK or the variation, BICFOK -- both are critical for success.

  20. Brandon Sanderson once said "Sometimes you've got to ignore the bozo on the stage" in reference in what you can learn from authors speaking in presentations.

  21. "The first draft doesn't have to be good. It just has to be written."
    ~Libby Fischer Hellman, during her interview with Writer Unboxed.

    Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

    1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written.
    2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

    ~Orson Scott Card, in his book, HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, chapter 5, "The Life and Business of Writing"

    And my most favorite advice is from Ben Bova, but it's too long to quote in the comments, so just click HERE

  22. "Put salt in every advice you get, no matter how knowledgeable is the source."

    I wrote this myself, but the core idea came from someone knowledgeable, heh.

  23. You can't think your way out of a writing block, but you can write yourself out of a thinking blog. -- Geeta Kothari, writer and professor

  24. Don't be stupid, writing is for losers. Get a real job! ~ my father

  25. My best writing advice was "never give up".

  26. The first draft is supposed to suck.

    Omit needless words--Strunk and White

    Marry someone with health insurance.

  27. It applies to lots of things besides writing, but "A little bit at a time goes a long way." I wrote a post about it last month, actually, because I subscribe to it so much.

    That, and "Don't be afraid if your first draft sucks; it's supposed to" have been very helpful.

    I'm still trying to adopt Strunk and White's "Omit needless words." I know it's good advice, but I can't help being longwinded sometimes. Oh well, at least I know I need to improve on it. That's a start...

  28. "There is no recipe except to care very much for the cookery." That's actually a paraphrase of Henry James and the epigraph on James Wood's How Fiction Works.

    In addition, the best writing advice I got came from reading How Fiction Works, followed by Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer.

    The other books (which are, in their own way, pieces of advice) that matter to me I listed in The very very beginning writer.

  29. There's so many bits I've gotten over the years. I think Maass' 'Conflict on every page' would be one, and Monica Wood's 'Resist the urge to explain' would be another. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  30. "Do whatever the fuck works for you and ignore the naysayers"

  31. Best advice for general getting it done and submitted- discovering Heinlein's Rules for Writers.

    Best actual writing advice dealt with dialogue (which was always a huge issue for me)- "You don't have to do call and answer. Sometimes when one person says something, the other guy just shrugs."

  32. "Run away!"
    (I failed to follow this excellent advice, however)

  33. After hearing about all the advice read in books, on blogs, from friends, etc. etc., a person in the industry said, "Just write the damn book!"

    Thought that sentence was brilliant. Of course, was drinking Prosecco at the time so that may have had something to do with it.

    Nope. It's very good advice. *hic*

  34. My all time favorite writing advice is the first two points of Robert Heinlein's famous four runes for writers:

    (1) You must write

    (2) You must finish what you write

    (Number 2 has been my downfall, but I'm working on it)


  35. "Integrity will always find a way."

  36. I won't say it was the best advice I've been told, but the first concrete advice I got was, "If you change the rules from the way the real world works, be sure to define them at some point in the story." -From my professor of the only creative writing class I've had, when he handed back the first draft of my fantasy story.

    He said he'd been hesitant about letting me write fantasy, because most new writers don't establish the rules, but I had. If he was that concerned, he could have added that to his lessonplan, despite the fact that fantasy was nowhere on his curriculum. (Yes, I was the oddball.)

  37. No director calls for "Lights, Camera, Describe the weather.".

    It has really stuck with me and helps when I get bogged down in unecessary minutae.