Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Advice or No Advice?

Advice or No Advice—that is the question! 
Terry Shames here:

I have a sneaking suspicion that Steven King doesn’t keep handy little post-it notes to remind himself of writing advice. I suspect he just starts writing and writes until he gets to the end. But I’m not Stephen King, so I’m always finding little “reminder” notes to myself, cryptic things like:
                    "Deep POV" or  "Action/Reaction/Emotion/Action"
Yes, these are two actual notes I found on my desk just now.
I’m always reading articles and books about “how to” do some aspect of writing—how to approach your writing (by the seat of your pants, or by outlining) how to build a great plot, how to make your characters come alive, how setting can enhance your story, how to write a great synopsis. I attend workshops and always think I’ve finally found exactly the right writing advice. I write down the information and sometimes type it out….and then never look at it again. Last fall I went to a workshop where the writing advice seemed brilliant. I wrote it all down. And occasionally I think about it—usually when I’m stuck. But do I go back and read my notes? Not really. I can only hope is that some of it took root deep in my lizard brain.
There is a whole lot of advice I TRY to follow, such as:
-Start the book with a punch. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a murder, but it should be something intriguing. (I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, and I think it’s a perfect example of this.                                                     
-Leave the reader hanging at the end of each chapter so they want to read “just a little farther.”
-Be fair to your reader: Give the reader enough red herrings to fool them, but also enough clues to figure out whodunnit.
And there is some advice I don’t think is very useful:
-Write what you know. I do think it’s good advice, but “what you know” is misleading. You can learn a lot of stuff. I think what the advice actually means is to write what comes viscerally to you. Write what feels like your true self coming out.
-Don’t start with the weather. Pah! “it was a dark and stormy night.” is a wonderful line. It has been maligned all of out of proportion because the rest of the book is so bad. My advice would be, start where you want to. You may not end up keeping the lines, but you have to start somewhere, and weather can be a great metaphor.
Here’s some basic advice I follow:
1) Dig deep, and find the story that only you can tell. I suppose this is some version of “write what you know,” but when I finally listened to the advice and followed it, it felt much bigger than that. It felt like I began to understand the story I wanted to tell and the way I wanted to tell it.
2) Write the damn book! There are lots of ways people can get to that. Some write a few chapters, then revise thoroughly before they move on. Others charge through full-tilt, wanting to get the story down on the page before they attempt to revise. Whichever method works, the important thing is to actually do it. Writing the same fifty pages again and again for five years won’t get the book written.
There is one other bit of advice I’m trying to follow this year. It isn’t actually writing advice, but life advice"
      In 2019 there are 365 days, 8,760 hours. Use them wisely.

To me, that doesn’t mean I have to spend every moment writing or marketing books. A wise use of my time may be to go to an art gallery or take a walk. It may be having dinner with friends and really being present instead of thinking about my book. I think the advice works on many levels, and can be useful in writing, as well. What it means to me is to be aware of how I am spending my time. Even if it’s frittering away an hour, I’m not just frittering mindlessly. I’m giving myself permission to use the time in a way that best serves me in the moment. I can’t think of any better advice for a writer!


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post and great advice, Terry — "Find the story that only you can tell."

Paul D. Marks said...

I think the ultimate advice is what you say, Terry, "Write the damn book." That's what I always tell people, just sit down and do it. It doesn't matter what comes out, what you end up using or not, but you have to put yourself in a chair and do it. And that's what separates the wanna-bes from the people who make it to one level or another, even if that level is only finishing the book.

Terry said...

Thanks Dieter and Paul. You have to find your story, then write it!