Thursday, January 03, 2013

Notes on Writing Advice

I've had a wonderful few weeks since I posted last. Family vacation at Disneyland, Christmas (my very favorite holiday!), and New Year's. I wasn't as productive as during quieter times, but I am working away on a major revision of the WIP, and hopefully it'll be a far better story at the end of all the mess. I hope you had some good "off" time too, and maybe a bit of work thrown in!

The main purpose of this post isn't niceties, though. I need to talk to you about something. Okay, I need to *rant* about something, a little.

With the New Year a lot of people make resolutions to start writing, to write more, to get serious about writing. Yay! We need more good stories. But these new writers or newly serious writers get a lot of advice thrown at them. I've been seeing it popping up lately, all over. Especially from published writers.

I read a blog the other day from a published writer telling readers if they want to be a "real" writer they need to write every day. Sure, they didn't HAVE to. But if they were serious about it...well. This writer made it sound like if you don't write every day, you might as well give up now, because you weren't dedicated enough.

NO. NO NO NO NO NO. Guys, I may have growled at the screen a little.

I've seen so many writers give advice like that over the years. Not "I did this, or I do this, and it works for me." That's useful! But that's not what I see everywhere. I see "If you want to get published, or be successful:"

  • you should write every day (this is a huge one in the community)
  • you should outline (sure, pantsing is okay for newbies, but not for people with contracts...)
  • you should NOT outline
  • you should use Scrivener
  • you should use Word
  • you should write in cafes, like real writers do
  • you should turn off Internet while you write
  • you should let your manuscript sit for (2 weeks, 1 week, a month) after the first draft. Whatever you do, don't touch it before then!
  • you should fast-draft and then revise
  • you should revise as you go
  • you should have 3 (or however many) crit partners for each stage
  • you shouldn't have crit partners after a certain point, just agent/editor
  • you should have a certain number of stages in drafting
etc., etc. RULES. Not tools, or thoughts, or ideas to consider. RULES. And new writers are going to suck those rules right up and try to do all of them, even though many of them conflict! I know I did. I flailed.

Okay. So my books are not on the shelf yet, so maybe I don't have the authority that a genuine pubbed author has. But I have been doing this for about 12 years. I'm working on my 7th manuscript. And I know a LOT of published authors at this point, have witnessed them go through the process of writing books over and over. And here's what I've learned. 
  • Everyone writes differently. And that's OKAY.
  • Not only that, but every BOOK is different. You'll change and develop as a writer. The books will require different tools. Some might need outlining. Some might need fast-drafting. Some might need a zillion revision stages, and some might only need a couple. And your life will change too. For some books you may write every day. Sometimes you can't do that--you may have other circumstances and you may not be able to write on weekends, or on Wednesdays, or for a week when your mother is here.
You are still a real writer.

I happen to be writing every day right now, because I found a way that works for me. But for years I didn't write on weekends--weekends were strictly family time, and that was important too. I still finished books, had an agent, went out on sub, wrote more books. 

I think there are three absolute "rules" you need to follow to be a real writer. These are the only things we all need to do. And we all DO them, over and over and over, from the 20-published-books author to the ones still in the trenches, at all levels. I learned them a long time ago from Diana Gabaldon, and they're the only true rules I've ever seen. Ready? Here they are:

1. Read.
2. Write.
3. Don't give up.

That's it. Nothing else matters.



Annika said...

And now you are my favorite.

Cat Winters said...

An excellent post, Susan! I was reading all the recent "Write every day!" and "Why aren't you writing right now?!" tweets, too, and feeling the urge to write a similar rebuttal.

Read, write, and don't give up are absolutely the best words of advice. It's true, nothing else matters, other than deriving actual joy from the act of writing.

Susan Adrian said...

Annika: *grin* It makes me so mad when people try to make rules!!

Cat: Thanks! The "write every day" thing kills me especially when the writer has a family, or you know, other obligations. You write whenever you can, but there isn't a real writer schedule!

Anonymous said...

Such a great, great post! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I used to feel bad for not writing on weekends, but you're right - that's family time, and that's just as important to my life as writing is. And I think you're right about the "rules" - I've been worrying over a book that I need to edit that doesn't need nearly as much work as the last. But I keep thinking it *should* so I keep putting off the editing because I figure I must be missing something HUGE. I think I'll just dive in - it may not need several re-writes like the last one did.

Awesome post - I'm sharing!

Linda G. said...

Good rant.

And I may be pubbed, but I couldn't do without my crit partners. :)

Susan Francino said...

You. Are. So. Right.

Incidentally, I just posted about committing to writing every day this year, but that's not because someone told me to. It's because I know it's a good idea for me, my life, and what I'm writing. Which is the only reason anyone should take any advice.

People should be careful not to present advice as "rules" because (I know from experience) it can really freak out beginning writers. At the end of the day, what matters is what you've written, not how you've written it. But that in itself is something writers need to learn.

Susan Adrian said...

thedharmadiva: Thank you!!

Rebecca: Thanks! Absolutely try the revisions and see where they get you. One of my books (only one...sigh) didn't need much tinkering at all. All the rest: tons. :)

Linda: *mwah*

Susan: Thanks! And yes, if you are able to write every day and it works for you, awesome. As I said, I'm doing it now too, and I'm liking it. But I hate that others make writers feel guilty if they can't do it that way.

amber said...

Love it -- you're absoltuely right. Reading is so important. I just finished a book that made it so glaringly clear what my agent says when she says, 'write in the YA voice, amber!' ... I get it now, you know? :) Thank you for the reminder and the TRUTH!

mima said...

Yay! Like getting a huge writerly hug. Thanks ever so, and happy 2013 to you:-D

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

This is so true and awesome.

Susan Adrian said...

Amber: Yes!! Reading is a critical piece!

Mima: *hug* Happy 2013!

Amy: Thank you! *agent-sister fist-bump*

Kim Kasch said...

Great post!

I have a new mantra: R.W.DGU!

Trish Doller said...

THIS. So much this.

(Also, my captcha word is eviendo, which I think is the Harry Potter spell for opening windows.)

ReaderGal74 said...

If your writing has as much power as this blog, I'll read you :) gonna go look for you now. :)

Susan Adrian said...

Kim: Love the mantra!

Trish! Thank you! (excited to see you over here)

ReaderGal74: Thank you so much! Nothing to find on the shelves yet. Hopefully soon-ish. :)

Anonymous said...

Well said. I like your rules.