On Writing

If you were to Google, say, "writing tips" or "writing advice," you would be met with a long list of results. Some of it may be structured as guidelines, and some of it may actually be listed as rules. Some of it is good advice, but a lot of it is subjective stuff that won't work for everyone.

Stephen King, from whom I borrowed the title for this post, has a lot of great writing advice, some of which I've taken to heart, and some of which I've ignored completely. Finish your manuscript and then shove it in a drawer (either literally or figuratively speaking)? Yes, absolutely. Writing every day? Ehhhh, not so much.

The thing about writing is that you have to do what works best for you, and what works best for you may not be what the "professionals" say is right, and that's okay. I'm gonna talk about what works for me, and if it doesn't work for you, hey, that's fine. You do you.

So, on the whole "writing every day" thing. I can't do it. I'm not disciplined or structured enough, and some days, I just don't have the energy to make my brain work to put the words on paper. I also don't like the idea of forcing myself to write when I'm just really not in the mood, because I won't be happy with what comes out.

On a related note, I can't make myself write for a certain amount of time. Mostly because I'm too easily distracted, and I also get interrupted a lot. If you can write for an hour straight, then great! I kind of envy you, to be honest, but if you can't, don't worry about it.

You don't have to write linearly. I used to feel like I had to write from beginning to end, in the story's proper order, but when I started doing NaNoWriMo, I learned to move away from that. If I get stuck on a section, I can just leave it and come back to it later, or if I have a later scene that's all up in my head, eating my brain, I'll write it and put it aside until I need it, just to get it out so I can focus on what's currently happening in the story.

On another related note, NaNoWriMo is good for stretching yourself and your abilities, and examining your process and the way you write. As mentioned, I used to write my stories in order from beginning to end, but when I started doing NaNo, I realized that even if I skipped scenes in order to reach the word count, I was still creating a sort of "frame" for the story, and it was much easier to go back and fill in the blanks, rather than forcing myself to get everything out, all at once.

If planning helps you, then definitely do it. I used to not care so much about coming up with outlines and whatnot, but when I started writing original fiction, and started getting really serious about it, outlines really helped to keep things in order. You don't have to make your outlines in any certain way, just however works best for you, but I like to make one big notes document in Word, and write out my character descriptions, along with the outline of the plot, and any other notes and thoughts I have.

One big thing that helps me is to cast my characters. Coming up with the actors who you want to play your characters can give you a big boost in terms of physical descriptions and personality characteristics. Obviously your characters should not just be carbon copies of actors, but it's a good jumping off point for hair and eye color, certain mannerisms, etc. Make them taller or shorter, change their eye or hair color as you need, but using a famous "template" is what really gave me the confidence to actually start writing original stories, because the hardest part for me was always creating the characters. The Only One, No Safe Place, Finding Home Again, and my current project Crimson Hollow all sprang from me thinking, "Okay, what kind of project do I want to see these actors in? What kinds of characters do I want to see them play?"

"Write what you know" is probably the biggest thing that may put people off from writing, because what we know may not be very interesting, but this is what research is for. I'll make a bigger post about research at another time, but I didn't know much about the FBI before I wrote No Safe Place, but rather than letting that keep me from writing the story I wanted to write, I just did as much research as I could. Even if you've never been to a place you want to use in your story, Google Maps and Google Earth are really useful tools if you can't actually travel to the location.

One popular bit of advice that I do agree with is to set your book aside after you finish each draft. Just let it sit for a week or two, or even a month, whatever feels right for you, and then come back to it. The time away will enable you to see it in a different way, and you'll be able to better notice any mistakes, or awkward phrasing, or whatever else.

Even if you can't afford professional editing (I can't), find a few good friends who you trust to give you honest feedback to read over your stuff. Even if you just have one other person read it over, their ideas and feedback are crucial, and can help you think of your story in a different way.

A couple of quick parting bits: First, "said" is not dead. Seriously, just use "said." Readers will skim over "said" but will get tripped up if you continually use other words to avoid it. Second, adverbs are not your enemy. Too many can become distracting, but don't kill yourself trying to remove every single adverb from your writing; some of them are necessary, and a few isn't going to hurt anything.

As always, take every bit of writing advice with a large grain of salt, and if something doesn't work for you, then don't worry about it. You're not a hack if you can't write every day, or if you end up scrapping half of your book and starting over. As long as you write, you're a writer.


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