Monday, October 16, 2017

One Hundred and Sixteen Priceless Bites of Writing Advice Before Dinner

Q: There are a large number of online sites offering advice about many aspects of writing. Do you still use, or have you ever used, any of them? If so, which and why?

- from Susan

20 Writing Tips from 12 Bestselling Fiction Authors
21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips from Great Authors
19 Amazing Pieces of Writing Advice from Authors
50 Pieces of Writing Advice from Authors
6 of the Best Writing Tips & Advice from Successful Writers
Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

That’s 116 priceless bits of advice right there, and I am only on the first page of the Google search that apparently continues into the next millennium. I pity the poor novice writer, eager for help and inspiration, turning as one always does these days to the Internet. How do you filter the advice? Who are these bestselling, highly successful, great writers and how do you know that what worked for them will work for you?

I may have looked at a few back in the early 2000’s when I was just facing up to my writing passion and wondering what to do next. I seem to recall there was a listserv – Dorothy-something? – that several people recommended, but the complications of joining and reading what seemed like an awful lot of unfocused chatter wore me down quickly. I had a more than full time job then and wanted to cut to the chase. Not sure when it went live, but Writers Digest had an online presence, but maybe you had to pay? What I’m realizing is that, no, I really didn't gravitate toward or use online writing advice sites much.

Now? I have friends in the business, I have an agent, I have an editor, I have a couple of fantastic beta readers, I get reviews, I have my own experience of what works and what doesn’t. And occasionally I’m asked to share what I’ve learned in presentations, and that forces me to consider carefully and be honest about what I think – because no one absolutely knows – works, which helps me.

I’m not dissing online writer advice. I might turn to the web if I were starting today. But I have more faith in classes taught by genuinely successful writers, workshops with smart faculty, a few outstanding how-to books on the topic*, and the best writing advice in the world: the work of authors in any genre whose stories or non-fiction prose set the shining examples of how to write so that you move people, surprise them, convince them of something.

Ginormously successful writer JK Rowling offers 13 pieces of writing advice in a Google-searched post I stumbled upon today. I like the last one, which is a sort of shrug about the whole idea of taking other people’s writing advice:

“I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It's totally for myself.”

* I’ll just mention a few I think are worth checking out. There are others…

Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery
James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel
Jane Cleland’s Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot
David Corbett’s The Art of Character


Unknown said...

Your experience with online writing tips parallels mine pretty much, Susan. Nobody absolutely knows what works, write what you want to write, and stay open to all advice.

Susan C Shea said...

So good to meet you at Bouchercon, RM! Yes, if you think about it, if someone had the Golden Key, there would be even more excellent writers today than there already are.

Unknown said...

Likewise, and my only regret is I didn't corner you for coffee - or WINE better yet! Next time!