The Simplest Writing Advice

Writers are an incredibly insecure group of people.  It’s true.  I’m even insecure about writing about our insecurities – what if people get upset about it?  (If you did, sorry).  But the fact is that we are very insecure, and an extension of that fact is that it isn’t an insult. In many way it actually makes a lot of sense. Fiction is hard to judge (people are entitled to their own opinion, unless, of course, it’s just plain wrong), it’s often difficult for writers to tell if they’re getting better, and each piece of writing takes so long to finish and is so time consuming that it’s not easy to finish it on faith alone.  And while each book you write might make you a better writer, it might take two or three (read: a ton) of them for your improvement to be noticeable.  Because of all this, confidence is something that writers are always chasing, and that makes it hard to believe that the simplest advice about writing is true.

Just-write-

To be a better writer all you have to do is write.  It’s not only the simplest way, it’s the best way.

But there are a couple of things to understand about those two sentences:

1)  As I said before, it’s true.  No doubt about it – the best way to get better is to write. Sometimes it can be hard to believe because in school we learn by studying and memorizing, making flashcards and study guides, reading fat textbooks.  We need to stop thinking like that.  Weird as it is, writing is more like a sport than a class in many ways (though it’s also way less cool).

In a sport you get better by playing.  There are drills that you can do, specific parts of the game you practice over and over again so when the time comes to really compete you can execute them perfectly without thinking about it.  You can study the game to get better, analyze certain plays, but when it comes down to it, the player who spends 12 hours a day watching game film will never beat the player who spends two hours a day running around the field playing the game itself.  You write to get better at writing, there is no getting around that, nothing you can do to replace the practice you need.  It’s easy to lose sight of this, especially for those of us on WordPress reading other peoples’ thoughts and tricking ourselves into thinking that this somehow counts as writing practice.  Don’t get me wrong, I want you to read this blog, maybe I should tell you that reading this blog is different, that it does count as writing practice.  Come on in, get addicted, stay a while.  But the truth is that it doesn’t.  We always need to remember what is most important when trying to get better at writing, and that is to write.  Committing to this piece of information can often separate the people who love writing, who will put in the time and effort to make it happen no matter what, from the people who love the idea of writing and just hope that one day it’ll happen for them.

2) Sticking with the sports analogy here, a person who plays pick-up basketball for five hours a day will never beat a person who goes to practice, listens to his coach, works on his shooting, dribbling, and passing form, plays the game for two hours a day, then watches his film or takes advice from other people about his technique.  Writing is important, but you can’t simply place word after word in an endless march until the end of time.  Yes, you’ll still get better, but you’ll never reach the level of someone who is mindful of what they’re doing.  Practice specific parts of a story (plotting, characterization, theme), focus on one thing for a certain amount of time, like making each character speak in his or her own unique voice, or trying to weave a certain theme into a piece of writing, and eventually you’ll always write that way.  Read your own work and revise it, making sure to understand what you can improve on so that in your next piece you can focus on one specific technique to take it one level higher.  Practice every day, listen to advice, pay attention to your own game and learn how you can get better, do drills to work on a single skill.  Then when the next match rolls around you might be surprised at how much better you’re playing.

What about you?  Do you spend more time writing or reading and thinking about it?  What tricks have you used to keep yourself motivated and committed to practicing the actual act of writing?  Do you always write before you blog, so that if you don’t write one day you aren’t allowed on WordPress?  Do you look closely at your own work to see specific things that you can do better?  Do you think you might start now?

Good-Trees

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I'm a 25 year old recent college graduate (who still clings to that title over two years after graduating) and aspiring author. I also love sports and going out with my friends.

18 thoughts on “The Simplest Writing Advice

  1. I laughed after reading your first sentence. We are an incredibly insecure group of people. I have written entire drafts that I’ve deleted out of frustration and disappointment in myself that they are not the message I am trying to convey. That I can do better.

    I’ve written personal poems that I am too afraid to publish to WordPress for fear of how they will be perceived. I push myself outside of that confinement each and every time I take to this activity and learn to trust myself (and my writer’s instinct) more and more. That, with daily practice, is what helps me.

    Another great post! Thanks 🙂

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  2. I love this post. (Just fyi, because like you said we writers are insecure.)
    I write everyday on my book, a short story, or an article, or sometimes all three. ha I look at blogging as an important part of building my platform, so it’s part of my routine instead of an ‘if I do this I get to blog’ situation. To keep myself motivated I remind myself that I can only reap the benefits of the seeds I sow, so even on bad days I write. When my blog is slow or I’ve been rejected I just remind myself that even my favorite authors, who have big careers, had to work to get there and have bad days now too.

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  3. Such a though-provoking post, I loved it! Since I was young I’ve had a fascination for books and words. I feel like the urge to write (for my own enjoyment) has always been there but I’ve turned it down so many times out of fear of dissatisfaction, which is why I’ve recently started a blog as a way of confronting those fears. From my very first post, I decided that everything I would publish on my blog would be for me and me alone. Establishing the purpose for my blog from the beginning has helped my writing a lot, especially on those days when I feel discouraged or pressure to better my previous posts.

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  4. Great post. It’s funny because for a couple of years before I started writing The Sanctum Trilogy, I spent loads of time taking copious notes on my characters and their personalities and family connections and favorite weapons and quirks and the like. Just loads of notes. Then I started another notebook on my world and the politics and modes of governance and you see where I’m going, right? I was becoming an awesome notebook creator! I finally asked myself one night, do I want to be the girl with the crazy notebooks or the girl who actually wrote her books. In other words, sh*t or get off the pot. So a little over a year ago I finally started writing and honestly, I haven’t stopped since.

    And it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    Get writing people!

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  5. True, the more you write, the better you can get. That’s what comes of experience, and is true of practically anything. As for motivation to write, I work a full-time job, so sometimes it’s hard for me to actually feel like doing any writing when I get home. I use my lunch breaks at work sometimes to generate ideas or take notes on a writing project. As far as actual writing, I recently started a daily word count goal to try to get some progress made on my book. I set it at 300 words, as that’s what I think I might at least be able to get done after work, if not more. I do tend to get sidetracked a lot by the internet – clearing out 100+ emails, time on social media (which I sometimes use the excuse that it’s for self-promotion, and not really just for fun), etc., so I have sometimes have to make myself focus on the writing. Hence the daily word goal. I’ve done pretty good with it so far, though it’s only been a week. A couple days I only did half the goal, though, but at least I still got something done.

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  6. Great post! A friend of mine recommended the Magic Spreadsheet as a way to write every day, and I’ve written more in the last three weeks than I have in the last three months combined. Practicing various aspects of writing is important, but like you said; consistency is key!

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  7. I thought long and hard once about why it was so difficult for me to take constructive criticism on my writing. I’m better than many writers about receiving concrit (at least in the fanfiction world), and I know this because I have given a ton of reviews in the past few years. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have been yelled at or someone has exploded on me. No, I never flame because I have been flamed, and it sucks. I only give reviews that I would want, and generally only give concrit if people ask for it. But most people really don’t want it even if they ask for it, so I’m always conflicted reviewing someone’s work unless I know they really want concrit. Every time I give concrit I stop and think, is this person going to explode on me? And I don’t like being exploded on. It’s very negative for me and the writer exploding on me. If I think they will explode then I don’t review. I can’t lie very well, and it’s rare that I find something where I have no concrit.

    There are two reasons I struggle with accepting concrit. One, I put so much of myself into my stories. It almost feels like a personal insult when someone says it’s not good. Two, I’m a very all or nothing sort of person. Either my writing is amazing or it sucks and shouldn’t see the light of day. So if there is something wrong with it, I jump to the conclusion that my writing is horrible. The second reason is why it is difficult for me to take concrit in anything, but I’ve gotten much better. I got to a point in ballet that I craved constructive criticism. Not to that point in writing, but I’m happy when someone takes the time to actually write it out. I’ve been on both sides. I tend not to review something if it’s really crappy because it’s not worth my effort. I think all writers should analyze concrit and stop and think if it’s useful information. I’ve gotten two flames out of 600 reviews on fanfiction.net and they were both non writers. They missed the obvious flaws and went after obscure ones. . . They kind of had a point, sort of. But when you wrap concrit in a flame it’s not received very well because the writer gets really defensive. I tried to tell a flamer that his concrit was fine, but telling me my story sucked so bad everyone that said it was good was pissing on me and telling me it was raining, was not a good way to approach writers he just told me I couldn’t take concrit.

    I think it’s a mix of reading and writing that makes one better. I wrote thousands of words a day when I first started writing, and it was all crap. I was not really improving at all. Then I met a writer who wrote amazing pieces, and she suggested a few books for me to read. That’s when I became aware of my crappy writing. Ballet and writing are very similar to me. If you dance a lot, but don’t work your butt off on improving, it doesn’t matter how many hours you dance, you aren’t improving. So I’m always analyzing books, reading articles about grammar, stories, along with writing. I try and absorb prose when I read, which is part of why I read so slow. I could read fast, but then I’m not getting much out of the book.

    So yeah, I’ve been on all sides as a writer and reviewer. It’s tough on both sides, receiving and giving concrit. I have been flamed, and it’s unpleasant, but it makes you a stronger person. I rarely review on ff.net anymore because it’s just not worth it. I have better things to do than have someone yell at me. No thank you u_u

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  8. For over a year, all I needed to do was put my tush on a chair with laptop at fingers and I was able to write. I actually have over 60 unpublished blogs. However, when a writer is experiencing a difficult time of life that can’t be written about, it’s more difficult. This is what I am experiencing now. I would have never predicted it! Great post!

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  9. Very much like this post. In fact, I think I’ll use this opportunity to try to “reblog.” This is my first attempt at reblogging, so apologies in advance if I somehow manage to break WordPress. Thanks!

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  10. Reblogged this on alightningbug and commented:
    I very much like this post from Fiction All Day. In fact, I think I’ll use this opportunity to try to “reblog.” This is my first attempt at reblogging, so apologies in advance if I somehow manage to break WordPress.

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  11. Great post! It’s very easy to get sucked into reading so much about writing you forget to actually write. But there are great resources online which I’m grateful for, so it’s all about finding a balance. My own blog definitely takes a back seat to my writing sometimes.
    -Dana

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  12. I love the sports analogies, having been a swimmer in high school! I have a bunch of books on the art of writing that I’ve been reading on and off between writing and blogging. I have written about one of these books on my own blog.

    Right now, blogging has taken precedence over my writing, mostly because I’ve been suffering such horrible writer’s block. It’s quite frustrating. Blogging has turned into a creative outlet for me when my fingers can’t seem to figure out which keys to tap to make a sentence in my novel.

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  13. Reblogged this on Verbal Dreaming and commented:
    Here’s a post I wish I’d written. I’ve thought about this issue so many times but I fear I spent too long thinking about it and not enough writing it! David’s put it better than I could anyway – enjoy.

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  14. I love the honesty of this post. Writers definitely need to strike a balance between reading and the actual writing process. Great insight!

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