Thoughts on Writing Advice

Posted: June 26, 2012 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , ,

It’s blog time. Well, not really. It’s more like ‘keep your nose on the short story collection’ time. However, tonight I stop for a while to bring you a short message from the Herbster.

As anyone who has read Type AJ Negative knows, I have often lamented about writing and some of the issues that come with it. Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a few more of the publishing ways and a lot of the… ahem… hoops you have to jump through just to get noticed. Even then, there is the great chance all your work ends up with no rewards.

That’s the thing about writing: It’s all risks and rewards, but the rewards don’t always equal the risks. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to go the traditional route, no one wants to take you seriously or give you the shot you want. Oh, but wait, if you don’t go traditional, then you’re going the self publishing route and that doesn’t mean anything.

Ummm… what?

You know. If you self publish your own book, then that doesn’t show you’ve worked hard on it and it doesn’t mean anyone is going to purchase it. It just means you went the route of vanity publishing. You took the easy way.

Ummm… as I said before: what?

Come on, you don’t really think anyone pays any attention to writers who put out their own work, do you?

Yes, actually, I do think folks pay attention to many self pubbed writers.

Dream on, Kiddo. You’re just wasting your time.

I’ve heard these arguments before. Heck, I’ve argued these arguments before. Let’s be realistic. In today’s digital world, publishing through Amazon’s Kindle or with Nook or Smashwords or wherever, it is easier to put your work out there. And maybe that’s part of the problem with the industry as a whole. There is a lot of bad stuff out there. A lot of authors don’t bother to edit their books or format them even half correct so they don’t read all wonky.

But—and yes there is a but—there are just as many good self pubbed books out there as bad ones. Believe me, if you can find the bad ones, you can find the good ones as well. That’s what that preview portion on the Amazon pages are for. If you like what you read, you keep reading by purchasing the book. If you don’t like it, then you can stop and move onto the next book.

I’ve stated before that I’ve stopped submitting to markets because I am tired of the business end of writing. My series, Dredging Up Memories, will go on—I think it has its own little following. That pleases me. If the comments mean anything at all, it tells me that my writing style works and that folks like it.

That brings me to the real topic of this blog:

10 Pieces of the Worst Writing Advice

I read this blog tonight, written by Stant Litore. You can read the entire blog by clicking on the link above, but there are a couple I want to touch on and then I want to add one more to his list.

“Show, don’t tell. Never tell.”

How often do you get good advice and bad advice within the same advice? Not often? In this case, you do. Showing is, in my opinion one of the most important parts of writing. Don’t tell us the person is sick, show us. You know what I’m talking about. We hear it all the time in the writing world. I would venture to say that about ninety percent of the time this is good advice. Then there is the other ten percent. It’s that ten percent where telling is an absolute necessity. Telling can move the plot along just as good as showing can, but it needs to be in the right spots. You can’t just throw it in where ever you want. In truth, sometimes we writers tend to show too much and bog down the stories in the muck of too many descriptions. How many times have you read a book and said, ‘come on, get to the point already?’ That’s where telling becomes your best friend.

Quite a few of my friends are going to bark at me about that, but I believe this with all of my writer’s heart.

“Write what you know.”

Really? Think about that for just a second. Do you really believe Stephen King knew everything about each book he has written? No. I think he came up with an idea and did quite a bit of research to make those ideas believable. Did he learn along the way? I’m going to take a guess here and say, yeah, he did.

I’ve never had a drop of whiskey or smoked a cigarette. I’ve never smoked pot. I’ve never been addicted to painkillers. Interestingly enough, I’ve written about three of those and my character, Hank Walker, eventually goes through a stint of drug dependence in a later installment of the aforementioned series. I’ve never been abused and I’ve never been homeless, but I’ve written many stories on both subjects. I know people who have experienced some or all of these things. But I don’t know any of these things.

There’s never been a zombie apocalypse, but many folks have written about it.

“If this is going to sell…
Don’t write THAT… No one will publish it.
Don’t self-publish.”

Yes, these get the combo treatment, and no I don’t want an apple pie with that, and please don’t super size my beverage. All three of these things have something in common: Folks think they know if something will sell, but in truth, they have no clue. No one knows.

I believe the number one reason books become successful isn’t because of a great marketing campaign, and often not because a book is really good either. The biggest reason books (or anything for that matter) does well is word of mouth. If someone likes it, they tell someone else. If ten someones tell ten other someones, the next thing you know, you have a hit on your hands. It also works in the opposite manner—let someone think what you’ve written sucks.

If you look at that list, it’s pretty much a bunch of things not to do. Writing should not be a list of ‘don’ts.’ It should be just the opposite, a list of ‘do’s.’

Do write for the enjoyment.
Do self publish, if that is the route you wish to go.
Do take that risk and write that story.
Do be willing to fail the first time (or maybe even the hundredth time).
Do learn what works for you and the readers.
Do write for yourself.

There are a few don’ts, but those are really common sense:

Don’t EVER give up (I have to admit, I’ve come close to doing this a few times).
Don’t let anyone say you are not good enough.
Don’t let anyone say your work is not publishable. How would they know?

Now to add my one little piece of advice that I consider to be bad part of the time (not always, but for me, I can’t follow it):

It’s all about action. Action. Action. Action.

If there is no action in a story it is usually quite boring. But when you go all action all the time, you lose character development, scenery development and that ability to get into the thoughts of the characters.

I can’t do it.

I like to call the style I write in ‘conversational,’ meaning I write my stories as if I am in a conversation with the readers. Sometimes, I venture off subject a little, but always manage to bring the story back around in the end. For me, that is the only way to write. I can’t do that with all action stories. My style seems to work for me. It’s easy to read—or so I’ve been told by total strangers.

This kind of takes me all the way back to the write what you know rule. I know how to talk. I know how to tell stories, stressing the parts that need emphasizing, giving some of the little things about the scenery of the events taking place in my story. I can make them funny and I often do when I’m in a room full of folks telling or listening to stories.

I write the stories the way I would tell them if someone were right in front of me. Sometimes I am completely animated when I tell them, why not when I write them?

To quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

The best advice I can give when it comes to writing is, why not give it a go? You have nothing to lose and you gain nothing by not trying. If you fail, at least you tried.

Risk. Reward.

I must go now. I’m tired and I have gone long-winded as usual. Like I said, I write the way I talk.

Until we meet again, my friends, be safe and keep reading.

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Comments
  1. Writer Jobs says:

    Another excellent post today thanks. I really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a great blog here.

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  2. That was probably one of the best internal assessments of writing and being a writer that I’ve actually taken the time to read. Coherent and sensible while being a bit entertaining at the same time.
    I think you might have just generated another sale as soon as I receive my next check because I would like to see how that thought process and style translates into fiction.
    You may well have another fan right here.

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