Four Thoughts on Writing

So you want advice about writing?

What do you do? Get a self-help book? A how to guide to being a better writer? There are tons of those out there. The best, I think, is Stephen King’s On Writing, not because he tells you how to write, but because it’s kind of autobiographical and in that bit of life we are told about, we also see how to write. It’s a very unique way of teaching or advising. There are plenty of other books out there, but none I really care to mention here.

You can ask other writers their thoughts. Some of them will give you good advice, while others will completely steer you the wrong way. You will get don’t do this, but do this. Or you have to do it this way and don’t do it that way. That way is always wrong. This way is always right. You should never write in this perspective or in this tense. Always have lots of action. Don’t use too many descriptors, but make sure and give enough that the reader can somewhat picture it. My favorite is ‘show, don’t tell,’ but so many people can’t explain what that means. Ask for examples and often you don’t get them.

[Side Note: there are some very good authors out there who can give you examples of what they are explaining. Those people ‘get it.’ End Side Note]

There are so many different things that you should or should not do, depending on who you talk to.

If you are a writer, feel free to disagree with me. It won’t bother me at all, unless you are rude and disrespectful.

For anyone out there who may care (and there are about twelve of you that I know of…I think), I do have some advice for you. No, this isn’t a self-help kind of thing. This isn’t even a technical kind of thing. You won’t see me telling you to be grammatically correct or to condense your sentences or whatever. This stuff…this stuff is mental. As Yogi Berra once said about baseball: “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” Well, I think it’s the same with writing.

Are you ready?

Okay. Here we go:

Be yourself.

Oh. Whoa. Wait. What?

Be yourself.

Be who you are when you write. Don’t try to be Stephen King or James Patterson or William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe or anyone else. By yourself. Write the way you are. Write what you want to write. Why do I say that? Because if you try to be someone else, you might miss out on what you can actually do if you were just yourself. You might miss out on finding your own voice.

I tried to write like others. I experimented with a lot of different voices, a lot of different styles. I tried going all action and not so much descriptions. I tried using a ton of dialogue and then as little dialogue as possible. I tried in the first, second and third points of view. I tried in past and present tense (and even something I played with trying to create a future tense).

Guess what? Until I stopped trying to be everyone else, I couldn’t find my voice, my style, the way I wanted to write. I was kind of all over the place and nothing really fit.

So, first and foremost, be yourself.

Next: Read. Don’t just read the writers you like. Read other writers that don’t fall within your normal reading tastes. While you read, make mental notes on styles and how the story develops. If you want to keep a notepad handy so you can jot down something that strikes a chord with you, then do so. You don’t have to analyze the story, but when you’re done, think about what you liked and didn’t like about it. Read—it may be the most important thing you can do for your writing.

Third, and this is a big one: You need to develop thick skin. By thick skin I mean you need to have skin as thick as an elephant. If you get your feelings hurt easily, this is not the business for you. This is a tough gig, folks. There are those who will help you—and they are good people who will do what they can for you. Then there are those who would just as soon break you down to the point that you would give up. Editors and publishers are tough and some of them aren’t very nice when they reject you. The publishing world is difficult and sometimes publishers screw over the writers. If you carry your feelings on your sleeves then you will get eaten up and spat out.

And, for the most part, readers are totally cool. But sometimes you get one that just doesn’t like your work and they attack the story and you, personally. If you can’t handle that with a level head, then putting your work out there may not be the best idea for you.

Though there are many more things I can put on this list, I will stop with this last one. It’s important: Enjoy what you do. I’ve heard people say they suffer for their art. Really? Suffer? Not me. There is an old saying: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life. It’s the same with writing. If you love it, it’s not work and you’ll never suffer for it.

Writing—telling stories—can bring so much enjoyment and personal fulfillment. For me, I get a sense of accomplishment that nothing else brings me. To quote another source, this time Twisted Sister: There’s a feeling that I get from nothin’ else and there ain’t nothing’ in the world that makes me go… Creating a world my characters live in, giving them situations to deal with, seeing how they resolve those situations, is such a rush. It’s better than any drug. Really. It is. Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. Write. It’s much better for you.

Let’s recap:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Read.
  3. Develop a thick skin.
  4. Enjoy writing.

If you will take notice, I didn’t tell you how to write. That’s not my place, and I don’t feel I am qualified to tell anyone how to write. And if I was qualified, I still don’t think I would tell anyone how to write. One of the parts of writing that can be so enjoyable—or any activity, for that matter—is practicing at it, learning what you need to do to get better and then learning how to get better. It’s those ‘Ah ha’ moments where the light turns on and you ‘get it’ that is so exhilarating and that makes writing fun.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


Thoughts on Writing Advice

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.