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!

Read More

Possibly Useful Tips to Overcome the Block

Writer’s block is a nasty thing.

Different people have different ways of curing writer’s block. Tips and tricks found on online lists can only get one so far. The general idea, in order to overcome the block, is to obliterate it. But of course, something that works for one person isn’t guaranteed to work for another.

I’ve got a few ideas that might work, but the best thing I can give is this single tip: don’t force yourself to write if you’re not in the mood to write. Writing can be enjoyable (it’s possibly a form of stress relief), but forcing yourself to do something you don’t want – and this goes outside the realm of writing – will take the fun out of anything.

The following are suggestions, not solutions. They’re things I do, but they don’t always work for me.

Drink coffee.

Cop-out answer, because coffee contains caffeine, which is a legal stimulant that takes care of problems pretty quick by making you feel alive. It is also something I put in the list because I absolutely love coffee, though of course this may not be the case for everyone (especially those who have some sort of medical condition that prevents them from ingesting certain amounts of caffeine). It’s not just the caffeine within the drink, though. I’ve found that the aroma alone feels very stimulating, and personally, it sets me in the mood to write.

Look at pictures.

Pictures of whatever interests you at the moment. Pictures of puppies. Pictures of salad. If you’ve got a vision in mind for whatever you’re writing, look at photos of something similar. If you don’t have a particular vision in mind, look at photos anyway, and if something catches your eye, write about it. Or at least, try to. I like to think of photos as stories waiting to be told, and it just needs a writer’s hand to craft that story. It’s not easy, of course, but photos already stir the imagination. Run a photo search, or visit sites that offer visual prompts.

Try to write daily.

This goes against what I said earlier about not forcing yourself to write, but sometimes the urge just strikes, and it’s really bad if it does strike and you’re somewhere outside with nothing to pin the idea down on. Bring a notebook, a pen, anywhere and everywhere, and if a few verses come down on you while on the way home, you could give a moment to write them down. It doesn’t have to be anything great. Just whatever comes into your mind. Take not that “writing” is not strictly the pen-and-paper kind. Voice notes can and will help, and sometimes it’s better to actually record your ideas through voice because it preserves spontaneity and the essence of the original idea better than when you’re thinking while writing the thing down on paper.

Do something else.

Read, play a video game, watch TV, sleep. Writing shouldn’t be a forced activity (unless it’s for class and you’re rapidly approaching the deadline, in which case you have to force yourself to write), and nothing will come if you just try to squeeze the juices out of an already juiceless source. Taking a break from writing means getting the chance to refresh and collect your thoughts, and to rest the tired mind that’s doing all the work – conceptualizing, thinking, writing, editing, everything, really.

A Few (Possibly) Useful Tips:

  • Go on OneWord. OneWord is a website that gives a word-for-the-day prompt and a sixty-second time limit, leaving you free to write whatever you want given that single word prompt.
  • Write fanfiction, if you’re stuck writing original fiction. Fanfiction writing is useful for when you want to work on the writing style with a set of fleshed-out characters and a setting that’s already familiar to you. Fanfiction writing helps for when you want to negotiate events and work out situations within stories. It can also train you in terms of writing dialog, characters, interaction between people, and relationships, among others.
  • Look at writing prompt tables. You don’t have to strictly follow them. Find a theme that can work, try to write something – don’t even impose a word limit – and hope something comes up. Here’s an example of a prompt table.
  • Go on Pinterest. Pinterest has a lot of interesting boards with writing prompts, whether visual or word.

Hope these work. If they don’t, though, don’t feel bad. Maybe it’s time to summon Mephistopheles and ask him to grant you an infinite stream of ideas, in exchange for your soul. Kidding aside, you could go read up on the weird writing habits of a few famous authors (it’s on Flavorwire, and I recommend that site, so go on and lose yourself there).

(Or maybe call Mephistopheles anyway. That could help.)

Read More