Practically Speaking: Practical Writing Advice from Writers, for Writers

We’ve talked – and written – about a lot of stuff related to writing, and some of them are quotes and writing advice from authors both big and not-so-big. And while a lot of pieces of advice, and a lot of quotes, are helpful and inspirational, sometimes those big pushes won’t always be enough. You’ve listened to stuff like “write what you love,” “write what you know,” and the not-always-reliable “show don’t tell.” You’ve seen people give you advice, and you’ve seen people tell you they can’t give you advice, because writing’s an individual experience and everyone else’s advice can only get you so far. You’ve tried to process material and learn from what others have done, and tried to do or to deviate from what’s been done before. And all of this is well and good when you tell yourself that you just need to get some more motivation – even just a tiny morsel of it – for writing.

But writers don’t need only advice to keep them motivated. Writing is, after all, more than just the act of writing. Throughout the writing process and beyond, there are practical tips that any writer can find useful – whoever you are, whatever genre you’re writing in, and regardless of what how motivated or un-motivated you are.

Here are some amazing and very much useful practical tips that you don’t always get when you ask people for writing advice!

“Read craft guides.” This one’s from author Marissa Meyer, who writes in her blog:

I have read dozens and dozens over the years, and I learn something new with every guide I read. Some are full of general advice, while others focus on one specific craft element like setting or characterization. There are also books on living a writer’s life while maintaining your sanity, or setting goals for yourself, or how to market your work once it’s published.

“Find three trusted readers, not just one.” A valuable tip from Brian A. Klems, published on Writer’s Digest. It’s a tip that makes a whole lot of sense, as – Klems notes – “reading is subjective,” and different readers will react differently to your draft. One may find strong points, for instance, in the parts which another reader thinks is weak. Three readers will provide three perspectives, and gives you the chance to decide which parts could and should be revised. Klems writes thus:

So when you’re ready, find three trusted readers who will review your draft at the same time. Don’t read their critiques until you have all three. That way, you won’t be crushed if one person doesn’t respond the way you’d hoped, and you’ll be able to pick and choose the suggestions that most resonate with you. It’s your novel, after all. Input is absolutely critical, but in the end, you have to sift through it and be faithful to your own voice.

The post “Practical Tips on Writing A Book from 23 Brilliant Authors.” We’re not gonna cut corners here. This entire post has a lot of great practical writing advice and should be read in its entirety. Here are some of my favorites.

Advice from Bill Wasik–

The first tip is that readers expect books to be exhaustive on their subjects. That doesn’t mean they want the books to be long — it means that they expect that you will cover all the basic ground that needs to be covered to understand the subject, even if they know some of it already.

This is a basic piece of advice, but it can’t be overstated when you’re trying to go from magazine-length to book-length writing: hone your outline and then cling to it as a lifeline. You can adjust it in mid-stream, but don’t try to just write your way into a better structure: think about the right structure and then write to it. Your outline will get you through those periods when you can’t possibly imagining ever finishing the damn thing — at those times, your outline will let you see it as a sequence of manageable 1,000 word sections.

From August Kleinzahler–

I find it helpful sometimes — and still to my surprise — trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person.

And from Jonah Lehrer–

My one piece of advice is to insist that your editor be brutal — there should be red pen on every page. At least in my experience, the book only gets decent during this phase, as all the darlings and digressions get killed. It’s such an important process, and yet too many editors are too meek (or overworked) and too many writers resist their edits. A good editor is a great thing.

As you can see, these pieces of advice run the gamut from being useful during the writing and pre-writing process, and being useful after writing. And there’s certainly a whole lot more out there, and will often involve stuff when you get down to business: should I self-publish or shouldn’t I? Where do I take my work now? How should my work be marketed? You probably won’t rest easy until you actual get the finished work in your hands — and even then there will still be a lot of hoof-work to be done.

But always remember that there’s a place to start, and often it starts at the beginning of your writing process. Be rigorous in every aspect of your work, and eventually, you might be the one dishing out some great practical writing tips!

Do you know any other great, practical writing advice? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!

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Divide and Conquer: The Habits of A Writer

Whether published or unpublished, full-time or part-time, writers have daily habits and obligations that they need to deal with. Probably you’re working a nine-to-five, or probably you’re still a student. It’s understandable – you have a workload you simply can’t ignore, although on occasions circumstances allow you a bit of downtime. So you use that downtime to sit in front of your computer and watch videos until the sun rises. In between, you manage to squeeze in around five, maybe ten minutes – and if you’re lucky, a half-hour’s worth – of writing something, and it doesn’t even matter what kind of written piece it is. Just as long as you write.

I said it a lot before – taking advice from strangers on the Internet, like me, is sketchy, unless we strangers have concrete proof that our advice works. And even then, it might not work for you. But humor me first, because I certainly hope you can relate: writing does not, and perhaps cannot have a place in your daily routine. There’s the feeling that writing isn’t just something that can be as regular as your job, or the classes that you have to take every day, and you just can’t commit to projects that you start because you know you’ll never finish them anyway. Maybe in a few years, when you’re living a comfortable life thinking of nothing but your writing. If that day ever comes.

But if you do want to improve your writing – and writers out there usually do – you will want to make a habit of actually writing. And I say writing, because that is a vastly different activity from trying to write, the operative word there being “trying.” Writing means your attention is on what you’re writing, and you’re not preoccupied with thoughts of whether you should actually be writing. For starters, just write.

And it’s perhaps going to be a bumpy ride, incorporating writing and easing it into your routine. But if you want to go on a journey, the clichéd – but true – answer is that you have to begin somewhere, right? Bodybuilders don’t start out buff. Likewise, writers don’t churn out wonderful, moving pieces after the first try. It’s possible, I suppose, but rare. Uncanny, even. But the important thing to do is that you have to have a sense of how you spend your daily life. Don’t think about writing for the moment. Think about what you’re actually doing every day, sans writing. Do your best to estimate the number of hours you have to spend fulfilling schoolwork, or going from one place to another. If you want to go extreme, you might also want to think about how long it takes for you to bathe and how long it takes for you to finish your food. Getting a good sense of how you spend your time, and where you spend your time, will give you a good sense of whether or not writing can be comfortably involved in your day.

I also say where, because there are times when you’re in a certain place at a certain time when you don’t feel like doing anything at all, much less write. So recognize your daily activities, and where you spend them, and then think about writing. I’m not saying that writing should be low priority, but there are, certainly, things in life, obligations, that we cannot ignore. So think about your schedule, and think about the details, and think about the where and when, and think about where, in the chaos of these things, you will, so you think, be most comfortable with when it comes to writing.

Writing regularly does not necessarily mean a daily business, although the ideal is that you will be able to write something, anything decent, every day. I’ve already said these things in previous posts, of course, but it pays to repeat it until you get it in your head that writing is part of your daily – or weekly – rhythm. I suppose the best thing to compare writing to is physical work-out. I doubt many of us started out with a regular work-out routine that we followed aggressively, almost, perhaps, religiously. You start out small – light weights, fifteen minutes of cardio, maybe ten to fifteen squats a day. But the more you incorporate you routine, the easier your body – and you’ll be surprised to find, your time – acclimates to these changes. And then you can be more aggressive. So writing can be an every-other-day thing, a thousand words or two thousand. And you don’t have to be overly meticulous when it comes to writing – just write whatever comes, as long as you’re managing to write. The habit will ease into your habits and will eventually become a regular thing for you, something so natural and so normal that you have to do it every day. Or every other day.

That being said, bear this in mind, too: the aphorism that Rome wasn’t built in a day applies, certainly. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your writing, so long as you’re satisfied with it. To get into the habit, write first for yourself, and then think of others second. Certainly, like Rome, I doubt Joyce managed to pen down Ulysses in a single, smooth swipe, with his wit and his dense prose appearing on eight-hundred or so pages in one go. Although of course this is Joyce we’re talking about. And then you think of Finnegans Wake.

Some light joking aside, I’m not saying that this will be easy. Life happens, and if you’re not dedicated enough to your craft to be able to set aside time to work with it, it will not work with you. I’m also not saying that you should just drop everything else and just write, because in reality, that’s not really a good idea. I’m saying, though, that if you do get into the habit of writing, and if you incorporate it in your routine, someday you will produce something that will make all those hours worth it.

Like most things in life that you work hard for.


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