In interviews, authors are often asked to give writing advice. And they always say the same thing. “Read a lot and write a lot.” I always feel frustrated by that answer. I mean yes, to be good at something you have to practice doing that thing. But that’s not real advice.
But every once in a while I find some writing advice that’s real, legitimately helpful advice. I collect it in the back of my brain, and today I’m going to share it with you.
1. Tell stories out loud, and pay attention to when people start to get bored.
I am sorry to say that I can’t remember where I picked up this gem. I know that a writer said it, and I know that as soon as I heard it I felt a rush of excitement that I was hearing something besides “read more and write more.”
But even better, I tried it, and it works.
When you tell a story out loud, you can watch when people’s eyes flicker with boredom. Those are the parts you should omit. Or maybe just switch to a different part of the story. If a dog was howling the whole time you had a funny conversation with a stranger, is it better to mention that fact at the beginning of the story, or the end? There’s only one way to find out: tell it to your mom one way and your brother the other way, and see who giggles more.
It’s easiest, of course, to use this strategy with actual stories that truly happened to you. But telling stories out loud and watching your audience carefully will help you hone better comedic timing in your fiction writing as well as your nonfiction. I mean, it gives you a better sense of timing in general. A better sense of what parts of the story to say when.
2. “That’s a Problem for Future You.”
This was the standout quote from Ally Carter’s book Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? I don’t remember the exact context of the quote, unfortunately. But essentially, as writers, we get hung up on a lot of “problems” that aren’t actually problems for “now” us, they’re problems for “future” us.
For instance: “Will a publisher take my book seriously?” If you haven’t even finished writing the book, that’s a problem for future you.
Or, “I have a wonderful idea, but I’m not sure if I should put it in my current mediocre project, or if I should save it for my future amazing project.” If you run out of wonderful ideas, that’s a problem for future you. Right now, use everything you have to make your current project as good as possible.
3. Practice your writing skills by blogging
This is the advice I always gave back when I was a teenage author and kept getting interviewed by random publications I’d never heard of and they always asked me what writing advice I had to offer their readers.
I still stand by it. Although now I’d modify it and say, write long Instagram captions. Or, post long status updates on Facebook. Pick your platform of choice, and get wordy.
The point is, this is the Internet. You will immediately know what resonates with people and what doesn’t. And that feedback will be incredibly helpful in honing your craft.
(Of course you may also pick up some bad writing habits, like making extremely short paragraphs, that will be hard to unlearn and will be exactly wrong for some types of writing, like academic papers. Oops. I definitely got called out for that one in college, multiple times, LOL.)
4. “You can make a career doing something even if you’re not the Brittany Spears of it.”
This advice came from one of my favorite youtubers, Safiya Nygaard, in an interview with Philip DeFranco, another one of my favorite youtubers. She was talking about creative careers, and how we’re often cautioned against them, or told that it’s an unrealistic dream. But there are actually more opportunities for careers in those fields than you might think. They’re just not always super glamorous careers.
And I mean, writing is the perfect example of this. There are so many ways to work with words. You can do copy editing, or marketing writing, or you can write children’s plays, or be a journalist, or write songs, or do line edits, or write magazine articles. The opportunities are vast, and so, so many people make their living by writing.
Being a writer is not an impossible dream. It’s very attainable, actually, so long as you’re willing to be in the field even if you’re not the next Ted Dekker.
5. “It’s like Mom always says. If you get on the road, and keep driving and driving, eventually you’ll reach your destination.”
This is what my sister Amy said to me when I asked her how she managed to learn another language (Thai). But I think it’s applicable to writing, too, or any task which seems overwhelming and daunting. Actually, of all the advice I’ve given so far, this one is the most applicable to actually writing a whole book.
You just gotta get on the road, man. And every day, you have to commit to keep driving. Montana may feel like it never, ever, ever ends, but it does. Eventually. But only if you choose to keep driving.
Or, in the case of your book, keep writing it.
(I guess I like the analogy in particular because I’ve been on a lot of road trips that seemed like they would never end, and then they did end.)
That’s as much good writing advice as I’ve collected. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?
P.S. Remember, Mom and I are currently doing the April Blogging Challenge, where we each post every other week day. Head over to Mom’s blog to read yesterday’s post about her writing cabin. She’ll post again tomorrow, and I’ll be back on Thursday.