Apr 24, 2013

The tricky task of giving advice...

Someone asked me the other day what was my best piece of advice for newbie writers. First, of course, my ego responded with a chuckle and a straightening of my (non-existent) tie. Ah-ha! Yes, of course! I am published now. Which entirely gives me the right to give advice.

Well, not exactly.

In the scheme of things, I'm still pretty much a newbie, too. Yes, I've had the good fortune to have a few more experiences than someone who's just starting out, and I'm more than happy to share what I've learned in my journey.

So I mumbled something to that effect, but the person wasn't entirely satisfied with my response. "What, then," they asked, "was the best piece of advice you received when you were starting out?"

Ooh. That's a tough one. But it did make me reflect on the kind of information I was seeking out when I was new to the whole writing thing.

Mostly, I think, I wanted to know the "how". Not so much technically how you write a book (but that too) but more logistically and practically. What do authors actually DO? How long do they spend at the computer? How many words do they write a day? How many books do they write a year?

I listened intently to the stories of other authors, the confessions of their routines and struggles and approaches.

The ONLY way to write a book, I learned, was to sit down and plot it all out on note cards and pin them to the wall. But no, the ONLY way to write a book, I was then told, was to let it grow organically and not kill the life of the story with a too-structured plan.

Hmm. I was already realising that there might be more than one ONLY way to write a book.

I remember being told, frequently, that it was an absolute crime to re-read your work from the day before when you begin writing for the day. You must NEVER re-read, you must get straight into writing the new material. Editing is for after.

Then I read that Susan Elisabeth Phillips reads her ENTIRE book from the start before she starts writing each day. (I'm still spun out about that.)

I read Stephen King's book On Writing and for a short while thought I'd be famous in no time, because his habits were the closest I'd heard/read to my own. That . . . ah . . . didn't quite happen. (Yet.) But it was reassuring to read that such a successful author approached the task of writing in a similar way to me.

So what have I learned? What advice do I pass on when asked? I have boiled it down to two tidbits:

1. Ignore anyone who says NEVER and ONLY. They're wrong.
2. Ignore item 1. There is ONLY one right way for you to write a book, and that's the way that works for you.

If pressed, I could add a number three. (Because stuff like this is always better in threes.)

3. Read and learn from others, take inspiration from them. Keep what works, discard what doesn't. Keep reading and learning. Repeat.

Hmm. I don't think there's a craft book in that. Well, not a very long one, anyway. :)


  1. Great post, Emmie. I agree that we're all different at how we go about our writing. I guess we end up a combination of points we've gleened from other writers and what feels intrinsically right in ourselves. My biggest thing is you should never, ever give up, no matter what technic you use.

  2. LOL, Emmie, I used to think published authors knew everything. Now I know they (meaning me) know diddly-squat. Which, of course isn't precisely true, but I've come to the conclusion that there must be as many different ways to write a book as there are writers. And what might work for one book may not work for another. LOL. I do love talking "process" with writers, though.

  3. Great post, Emmie! Ah, the process of writing a book. I used to hang off every word published authors said about writing and their process (still do!)

    I've completely changed my process since I started out. I began as a panser but it just didn't work. I threw out thousands and thousands of words. I brought a great book which taught me how to plot (I'm such a planner in every-day life, so this worked out well). Now I'm a don't-write-one-word-until-the-book-is-all-planned-out writer.

  4. I'm still somewhere in the middle, Jennifer! Well, for this book anyway. Next one - who knows?!

    Great post, Emmie. I think that is the only absolute rule - there *is* no absolute rule!

  5. Emmie, I'm sure that's why we love to hear how others write - because we're all so different. I find some similarities with what others do so I can nod my head in understanding, but lots of areas of divergence too. I suppose the trick is to find what works for you AND the book.

  6. Sue, I think that's a perfect point 4. Never give up. A "never" I definitely agree with! :)

  7. Michelle, totally how I feel too! And I absolutely still love to hear how everyone else does it -- there's always more to learn.

  8. Thanks Jennifer! My approach has changed over time. I'm still mostly a pantser, but I've found that I have to plot a little bit, just to make sure I'm on the right track.

  9. I'm glad you're with me, Kez! No rules! The anarchy of writing... lol

  10. You're right Annie -- what's right for "the book" changes all the time, I find! Always more to learn.

  11. Love your craft advice, Emmie! It made me chuckle! There is no right or wrong way, only the way that works for the individual! Having said that, I'm always fascinated by the process that works for other writers and I like to try out different things to see if they'll work for me.

    And I read Stephen King's On Writing as well - it was fab! It freed me up to "just write" the story so I could finish my very first manuscript. Before that I was totally bogged in charts and character sheets and plots and plans. I thought I had to know "everything" about the characters and the plot before I could start the story. letting go was such a relief!

  12. Thanks Sharon! I really enjoyed On Writing -- it's one of the few craft books I highly recommend to newbie writers.

  13. Great post and comments - what a good topic to discuss!!

    My best piece of advice would be to listen to what others have to say, work out what bits suit and what doesn't. This would go for everything from babies to house renovations. Everyone has an opinion. You need to work out what suits you....which can be overwhelming as a newbie.

  14. SEP rereads her entire book before she starts each day?
    I always reread what I wrote the day before and do some editing as I go. It gets me back into the story.
    I'm a planster or is that a plottster? A little of each then off I go.
    But I love reading everyone else's routines!

  15. Emmie, great advice! There are so many different ways to write a book and, for me, the process of writing a book seems to change for each one. I used to think I'd have it all worked out one day, but now I think that change is part of my process.