For every aspiring author out there in the world, all the writing advice floating about in books and on the internet can be condensed into one word, “write.”
There is no magical list or fairy dust powder that is going to make your words more powerful than actually sitting down and writing them. I see lists about “How to write action,” “avoid filter words,” “words to use other than very” and “Stephen King’s top 20 pieces of writing advice.”
Stephen King writes everyday. Thousands of words, every, single, day.
There are writing advice columns where writers ask “how can I make my protag do this?” “My protag is this, how can I have them do this?”
Sometimes when people find out I’m an author they ask me questions about who I’ve read and that I should read this writing advice book or that writing advice book or this author. And most of the time, I can honestly say, “I’ve never read that author’s writing advice book.” I have shelves and shelves of books about the fashion industry and fashion business. I have less than half a shelf of books about writing, most of them are about the perils of publishing, dictionaries of words and proper names. I have shelves and shelves of fiction and there are several shelves of non-fiction reference. But instead of spending hours and hours on reading books or advice columns about how to write, I sit at my computer or with a notebook and write.
When you write, you develop your own style, your own voice. You learn about yourself and what is important to you. I don’t want to be Stephen King. I don’t want to be Orson Scott Card. I don’t want to be GRRM. I want to sound and write like myself with my own voice.
If you want to write for fun, you write for fun and style and grammar and the ‘techniques’ of writing may not be so important. When I was writing for fun, I still wanted to improve. I still wanted to get ‘better’ at writing. (Because when I first started back in 7th grade, I sucked.) So, I chose one portion of my writing and I focused on it.
I wanted to write better dialogue. I didn’t want to write question and answer exchanges. I wanted dialogue that felt real instead of stilted. So, I wrote dialogue. I analyzed my dialogue. If I saw there was a question and answer exchange over and over. I went back and rewrote the questions into statements. I wrote so much dialogue that it became such second nature that I can’t tell you how exactly I write dialogue anymore. These characters in my head have conversations in my brain and I’m a vessel to get them from my brain to the page.
I decided later I wanted to write action scenes. So I wrote action scenes until I felt that I had finally found a way to write action that worked for me. Action that suited my style. I decided I wanted to work in writing description and try to figure out how to do it without disrupting my narrative flow and dialogue. So, I write description.
The day I figured out how to write a plot with conflict. Well, err, the Lone Prospect was born. Sometimes, plot and conflict comes deliberately and sometimes before this it was completely accidental. Now, I can look at my work and go “I can’t write anything until I have a plot and conflict.” Or “This story has no tension, what happened to the conflict? Drat. Must go find it. Rewrite.” Whereas before, if I had a situation, I’d just write it no matter what. This led to some very entertaining yet boring stories all at the same time.
As I have developed my writing I start to see things that I do that could be annoying and disruptive to readers. Then, I try to change them. I can see the bad habits in my writing. I can see where in sentences that my brain runs off on a tangent that would be better served as a sentence later. I notice where words are out of place. (And if it is a writing piece for fun, I don’t care and won’t change it. If it’s for publishing, I’ll fix it. The point is I see the flaws.)
If you’re unhappy with your writing, write more until you are happy. Write realizing that you can always improve if you want to do so. Write knowing that everything you’ve written can be changed if it has to be. Because if you don’t write, you’re never going to be an author.
You can only get better with experience. Being a writer, being an author, experience means writing.
People sometimes want me to help them with their writing. Then they get shocked when I ask them to write more than one hundred words in a week. I patiently try to tell them if they don’t write then me trying to help them is a waste of both of our valuable time. You can only improve by writing more words down on a page. (This honestly helps me sort the diehards from the dreamers.)
The basic rules of language and writing haven’t changed since high school. High School English classes about grammar and creative writing will teach you the basics of everything you need to know. (And I was taught Bob Jones English, which is horrible and I still know the basics of active versus passive, basic story structure, basic themes, basic conflicts.) You can learn and learn and learn, and it will do you nothing until you apply it by writing.
I’ll be fair. I have one writing catch all advice book. I can read it in ten minutes. The Writer’s Little Book of Wisdom by John Long. It has saved me from filter words, daffy dialogue and the peril of expecting people to give feedback on my work or notice it exists. It has reminded me there are three rules for a good novel and no one knows what they are, not to mix my metaphors and shoot epitaphs. I got it in high school. It’s turning yellow. There are passages highlighted of my favorite pieces of advice. I’m surprised I haven’t lost it. (There have been a few panic inducing close calls.)
So here are the first two pieces of advice from it. “Art without practice is nothing. Sit down everyday and write.”