Friday, October 20, 2017

Writing Advice: 5¢

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?

by Paul D. Marks

I don’t think I use online writing sites very much. I’m not saying I never use them, but right now none come to mind. On occasion I’ll search a specific question on Google and might go to one site or another. But there’s no writing “advice” sites that I use on a regular basis.

What I do use fairly regularly is Grammar Girl when I have a grammar question. It’s not the only site I’ll go to for things like that, but it is one I’ve gone to again and again, though it’s more for “technical” advice than advice about writing. I also use and Urban Thesaurus fairly regularly, despite Stephen King’s admonishment not to use a thesaurus.

I still have a slew of books from my early writing days – and that goes back a ways – but I don’t turn to them very often. Maybe I should… And off and on I’m writing my own advice book for writers. Someday I might even get it done.

As others have mentioned this week, I have some people who will comment on my works-in-progress, but I’m kind of feisty and often argue with them. Though eventually I do give in to their suggestions about ¾ of the time I’d say.

You’ll get advice from all quarters, websites, conventions/conferences, agents, editors, friends, the guy on the corner. Some of it will be worthwhile, some won’t. Sometimes you have to compromise, especially with agents and editors – you have to decide if this is the hill you want to die on. So you give in here and hold your ground there. There was one time when I wrote a short story in a modified screenplay format. I thought that format worked in the context of the story. The first editor that was assigned to it just didn’t get it – plus we had other issues – and passed me off to another editor. Initially, he also thought I should 86 the modified screenplay format, but I convinced him to let me keep it and in the end he agreed it worked well for the story.

The thing with all advice is to take it with a grain of salt. First, learn the rules -- you need to know them before you can break them and many of them are good and worthwhile. But ultimately, do what works for you and more importantly what works for the story and the characters. As I’ve mentioned before, don’t let anyone change your voice, and some will try to do that. When I co-edited, with Andy McAleer, two volumes of mystery short stories (Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea and Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea) I tried to have a very light hand in the editing process. That’s not to say I gave no input, but I wanted the stories to be the authors’ stories not my take on them.

These days there’s so much information out there and it’s very easy to look it up on the internet. Tons of blogs with articles on writing (like this one) that you can learn from. Sites like The Creative Penn and Writer Beware that offer practical publishing advice and more. And writing advice is like opinions, everyone’s got one. But regarding advice in general, don’t read every advice article or book and follow it blindly – some are simply fads that will wash out with the next tide. All of these things might work for one person and not work for someone else. You have to find out if it works for you.

What are some of the sites or other sources you go to for writing advice?


And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here:


Terry said...

"Do what works for you" is good advice for seasoned writers, but for new writers it can seem like a license to do things that don't work, declare fiercely, "It works for me!" and then wonder why they can't get an agent or readers. My new advice for new writers is "write the damn book!" My point is that after they have got a first draft, they can start the "real" writing--editing. Note: This advice is free and not available on the least not from me.

M.M. Gornell said...

My one-and-a-half cents are, so agree with, "Do what works for you and more importantly what works for the story and the characters." But you need to know what the "rules" are (grammatically, conventionally, historically, etc.)before breaking them on purpose and being successful with it. Eventually you get an "ear" I think--still working on mine, probably always will be. Good post.

GBPool said...

I still use The Chicago Manual of Style for technical stuff. Other than that, I have one method that lets me know if what I have written sounds right. I let my computer read it back to me with its "Text to Speech" feature. I listen to those words. If it doesn't sound right or if I typed the wrong word, that little voice says it out loud. It is totally objective. It has saved me many embarrassing moments.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good points, Terry. People do need to know the rules before they break them.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline. And I think you’re right. I should have clarified that one needs to know the rules before they break them.

Paul D. Marks said...

Gayle, I think hearing the story is one of the best things anyone can do. I usually read it out loud, often with Amy listening, so we have two sets of ears to catch problems. But even then we sometimes miss things.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Paul,

As you point out, there is no shortage of good advice on writing available. Early on I subscribed to The Writer and Writer's Digest, both full of good info. Writers Market is also a valuable resource available in the reference area of most libraries.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. I've also subscribed to both The Writer and Writer's Digest -- and Writers Market -- at various times. And all have been very helpful.

Evelyn Moore said...

All very good advice, Paul. :)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Evelyn!