Discussion: What’s the Best Writing Advice You’ve Heard?

Photo credit: coolio-claire on Flickr
Seeing how this is a writing blog where I share loads of tips and things I’ve learned along the way, I’ve started thinking lately about the best writing advice I’ve ever received. 

There are a lot of tips out there that I know have helped me tremendously, which I’ve posted about. But the tip I keep coming back to and repeating most often to other writers, particularly new writers, is a simple one. 

Finish the book. 

I repeat this pretty often here at Writability, because it’s so insanely crucial. It’s ridiculously easy to get discouraged or sidetracked while first drafting—whether it’s getting caught in an editing loop or being distracted by a shiny new idea or losing interest altogether. But the thing is, if you never finish the book, you’ll have nothing to edit and work with to begin with. 

I have no shame in saying that my first drafts are messy. I knock them out quickly and go through them over and over and over again later to root out the problems and replace it with fresh, stronger material. But if I didn’t get through the first draft to begin with, then I wouldn’t be able to do that, because the story wouldn’t be complete. 

If you’re working on a first draft and you think your writing sucks and you’ll never get published, finish the book. 

If you’ve got an awesome idea that you love but every time you try to write it, you lose inspiration or get distracted—finish the book. 

There’s a secret to first drafting and it’s this: you don’t stop writing until it’s done. Even when you think it sucks, even when you start to wonder if you’re wasting your time, even if you suspect it’ll never get published, you finish the darn book. 

Worry about the other stuff later. While you’re first drafting, all you have to worry about is finishing the book. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? I’d love to hear it! 

Twitter-sized bites:
Writer @Ava_Jae shares the best writing advice she's ever heard. Do you have any tips to share? (Click to tweet)  
What's the best writing advice you've ever heard? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Anne girl said...

I think next to "finish the book" the best advice I ever got was "Ok great you wrote a book, now you need to work your rear off to make it a novel. You're going to suffer and you're going to like it".

I think the second half the person was quoting from something but I never forgot that advice. And she was right

Medvekoma said...

"Write what you can, and not what you should!"
It's true in a couple of ways... Never write something only because "That genre sells good eh?", write what's natural for you. And do not listen to your inner censor when first drafting, you can always scrap some ideas while editing, but you will most definitely lose amazing scenes if you keep telling yourself things like "That's too strange." or "Nobody will like that.". Instead, get back to them during your first edit, and judge only then. I've learned this one when I found my old textbook, with hundreds of awesome ideas and elements. I'd just felt they were bad back then, and had thrown them away.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Editing is so very important. Once you've written the first draft, the real work really begins. :)

Ava Jae said...

So true! I often tell people to write what they love regardless of the genre or market and worry about the marketing stuff later. I also agree that not censoring yourself with drafting is incredibly important as well.

Thanks for sharing!

Jim Heskett said...

"If it sounds like writing, rewrite it" - Elmore Leonard.

Ava Jae said...

Ha, I like that! Thanks for sharing, Jim!

MssHeather said...

Best advice I ever got was in the editing stage. Finish the draft, and then go back and do a search for every time you used the words: felt, thought, started, very, really, just, simply, suddenly, abruptly, then.... words like these, find them all and then get rid of them if you can. Most of these words are making the mistake of telling and not showing.

Do a search for Chuck Palahniuk's article on not using "Thought Verbs". It's either the originator of this advice or he just explains it best.

Also, you should check your commonplace verbs that you use a lot and see where you can use stronger verbs. He walked - when you could say he slinked or crept or strode or trudged, etc.

Also, Yoda gives great writing advice. Do or Do Not. There is no try. Stop having your character "trying to remember" or "trying to convince themselves." Usually the writing has more impact if they just DO it or FAIL at it.

Ava Jae said...

That "Thought Verbs" article is excellent! I've recommended it to several people, and since reading it I've become much more attune to filter phrases both in my work and in others. It can make a huge difference.

I like that Yoda tip, too. Not one I've heard before (at least, not in that context) but very interesting to think about.

Katie said...

Courtesy of Tumblr:

"Never forget that you are the protagonist of your own story

and the antagonist of someone else’s!

And a possible love interest in some other peoples!

This might just be the single most inspiration thing I have ever seen on the internet.

You are also a supporting character to a lots of people’s stories. You might even be the kind stranger who unintentionally turns someone’s life around for the better."

It just reminds me that every character in your book has a life of their own, even if they only walk past your MC in the market. Their mind is occupied by other things, other worries, other people.

S.E Dee said...

"Beware writing advice - even this." I can't remember who said it for the life of me!

Ava Jae said...

I LOVE that!! So great. I've heard variations of it, but that tumblr version has to be my favorite way of putting it. :) It's so very true, and definitely important to remember while working on character development.

Ava Jae said...

Very true! No writing advice is perfect and very little of it applies to everyone equally.

Margarita Morris said...

Really interesting to hear your thoughts - thanks for sharing. If there's one thing that turns me off a novel pretty quickly it's when the writer doesn't have a firm handle on POV. Some authors lurch from 3rd person to omniscient without seeming to realise what they're doing.

Laura Rueckert said...

"Write the book you'd like to read." :) And a million other tidbits like "show, don't tell," "eliminate filter words," etc. But the first one is the one I like the best.

Ava Jae said...

I like those, too, especially that first one. :) Thanks, Laura!!

Laura Rueckert said...

Hey, where's my picture ;) I've disappeared.

George McNeese said...

The best pieces of advice are "Write what you know," which is debated as good or bad. I think it depends on who you ask. The second is, "Show, don't tell." As cliche as it sounds, is the best thing for a newbie writer. Finally, "Whenever possible, avoid using adverbs." They're mostly additional you can do without.

Ava Jae said...

Great tips! I definitely agree with "Show, don't tell." That's an enormous issue that often separates work that still needs massive editing from work that's ready to be submitted.

"Write what you know" I agree with to a point, but for me it refers more to emotions and experiences rather than literal real-world applications.

Thanks, George!

Ava Jae said...

Ohhh yes. That's a big red flag and can be very confusing.

K. M. Alexander said...

For me: "go write" is up there with "finish the book."

Laurie Muench said...

Get off the internet, stop dinking around, and just write. Don't wait for the right mood, sometimes the right mood never comes.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Definitely important. Thanks for sharing!

Ava Jae said...

That's so very true—you can't wait around until you feel like writing, or you'll never finish anything. Thanks, Laurie!

Kaitlin Hillerich said...

I have three tests when judging a book (yes, I'm weirdly methodical):

#1 Does the book have a prologue? If so, that will immediately make me wary.

#2 I read the opening line. Does it hook me? Does it feel like the story is being set in motion? (If the book has a prologue, I won't count that part as the opening line...I want to make sure something is actually happening after the prologue).

#3 I jump right to some dialogue. I look to see not just that the dialogue is natural, but there aren't crazy speech tags all over the place--characters shrieking, growling, snarling, and intoning their words all over the place is one of my pet peeves.

If the book passes all three tests I'll decide to trust the author and skim the first few chapters. If it fails, I put it back on the shelf. It's a process ;)

Ava Jae said...

That's so interesting! I do agree that prologues can often (though not always!) put me off, mostly if it isn't handled correctly (or isn't necessary). Opening lines and dialogue are also very important, so I can see why you'd use them as a litmus test! Very very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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