Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 13, 2015

The Best & Worst Writing Advice

Heather Webb

How many posts can we read on writing advice? I’ve read hundreds, yet I always come back for more. Why is that? Besides being passionate about improving my craft, for me, it’s about inspiration. I’m always hoping to find a little nugget to light a fire under my feet or change my view of something I’ve been wrestling with in my WIP. So without much ado, I’m going to share a few of my own tips.

  1. 1. Work your ass off. No really, WORK YOUR ASS OFF. Writing is hard, but don’t make excuses. People who make excuses don’t run the world. They don’t even accomplish minor tasks. If you want to write, then make like Nike and JUST DO IT, and do it well.
  1. Be humble. If you think you’re a special snowflake then your writing life will be an arduous one—both on the page because of internal expectations, and with others in publishing. No one likes to be around an ego-maniac or a drama queen. They aren’t fun to play with.
  2. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Life is hard enough as it is. Dump the dead weight, the nags, the negative nellies, and the poor-mes. They add nothing to your life, weigh you down, and they sure as hell don’t help you feel good about yourself in a difficult business.
  1. Read every single day. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. Everyone can read for ten minutes before bed. Lose sleep. Reading matters. There are dozens of studies that show its direct correlation to writing skills. Not only that, but it’s a terrific way to study the craft while enjoying yourself. I’ve learned more from reading fiction than all other methods combined.
  1. Consistency matters more than quantity. Some days you write 500 words, some days, three sentences, others, 3,000. Don’t judge your quantity; judge your routine, your dedication, and your consistency. The turtle wins the race.
  1. Don’t compare your journey to others. For one thing, it doesn’t help you write any better or sell more books. For another it only makes you feel like a loser. It’s easy to be eaten up with envy in a creative business. Transform that envy to fuel, to once again, WORK YOUR ASS OFF. And always be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
  1. Give yourself time to “refill the well”. If you’re writing well or “correctly”, it takes a monumental amount of intellectual and emotional, never mind creative input. Though exhilarating, it’s also exhausting. Strike out on adventures, dabble in other hobbies or creative pursuits you love. Fill your well with richness and replenish yourself so you have more to bring to the table on that next writing day.
  1. Be flexible about your vision. Each book we write changes us. The direction you thought you wanted may not be the place where you end up. Be open to change. It could very well send you to the moon.
  1. Don’t forget to live in the present, not just in your fictional worlds. It’s easy for us to get lost in other worlds. That’s one of the biggest draws to writing. But if we don’t have life experiences and interests and knowledge and skills, we would have no creative well to dip into. Be present. Absorb. Engage. It can only make your books stronger.

Conversely, for all the great advice out there, there’s a bunch of BAD ADVICE as well. A few of my favorites are:

  1. Start your own blog, especially to talk about writing. If this is something you enjoy, go for it. But the fact of the matter is, there are hundreds of writing blogs. When you blog about writing, you’re growing your publishing community (definitely a good thing), but it’s NOT a way to reach readers. How many novels have you bought of authors who run their own writing blog?
  1. Write what you know. If we did this, there would be A LOT of books about writers in yoga pants with huge piles of laundry to wade through. Snoozzzze fest. Obviously I flout this rule completely as a historical writer. You should, too. Part of what is so exciting about this passion of ours is branching out and learning, stretching and growing. So wade into uncharted waters and see what happens.
  1. Rock social media like it’s going out of style. I enjoy social media as an extrovert. Connecting with people is fun for me, since I’m typically alone all day in my fictional world. That being said, the longer I’m in this business, the more I realize how much social media detracts from a writer’s psyche. Also? If you haven’t figured out a way to reach readers online, once again, you aren’t selling books. Choose which platforms you develop wisely. Doing them ALL isn’t effective or practical.
  1. Write every day. This industry is too full of “shoulds” and doesn’t have enough “coulds”. Sometimes you just need a break, (which takes us back to refilling our creative wells). As I said before, WRITING IS HARD. If you don’t rest once in awhile, you may find yourself in burn-out mode.

P.S. If you want to write good books every time, it never gets easier, so LOVE what you do or don’t do it.

What is the BEST or WORST piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Bonus points for funnies.

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About Heather

Cover 1- hdHeather Webb writes historical novels for Penguin and HarperCollins,which have been translated to three languages and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan magazine, France magazine, and Reuters News Book Talk. BECOMING JOSEPHINE follows the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, and RODIN’S LOVER released Jan 27th, chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. A FALL OF POPPIES releases in 2016.

Heather is also a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Twitter: @msheatherwebb

68 comments on “The Best & Worst Writing Advice”

  1. Love, love all these, Heather, but I am #1 (no, not breaking #2, I mean I work my ass off!)

    I've gotten farther on being a turtle with a quirky voice than authors WAY more talented than I! You can't sell anything that's not on the page.


    1. Laura, you are the best example of what BiC (Butt in Chair) can do! Do you still not see that you have a boatload of talent as well?

    1. Thanks, Diane! I try to keep my feet firmly planted so I can progress forward. A few hard lessons have helped. lol. Good luck with your writing!

  2. The worst advice I ever got (related to a specific book, not "writing" per se), was from one of my first critique groups. The leader said, "Don't let anything bad happen to Sarah." Even in my novice state, I knew enough to leave that group.

    1. Um, yeah, Terry. GOOD CALL. That's terrible advice. We need to put our characters through hell or what's the point of reading the book? The way they tackle obstacles and grow is what hooks us and makes us love them.

  3. Absolutely love this - good for newbies and veterans to boot. The fact that you have a list of bad advice that seem to be common, well, 'advice', is a genuinely great touch! You kept my attention to the very end. (That doesn't happen often by the way).

    1. Thank you, Jozzy! I'm relieved I kept your attention. 🙂 I taught high school for 10 years so I've had lots of practice with a less-than-willing crowd, but sometimes I wonder if I've lost my touch or if it translates to blogging and teaching writers. Good luck with your WIP!

  4. That first tip couldn't come at a better time for me, since I'm putting in ridiculously long days to wrap up this draft of a novel. Love all your positive writing tips! And I also agree with your dig at the "write every day" mantra. Sometimes a break helps me refocus and get back to the writing with more fervor and efficiency.

    Besides, I hear from writers sometimes who have an unavoidable disruption in their lives (health, family issue, etc.), and then on top of everything else, they feel like they aren't real writers because they didn't get words on the page one day. Not true! Writers write (and writers finish books), but maybe not every single day. Thanks so much for this!

    1. Make that novel your b*tch, Julie! 😉 Hang in there, you're almost there.

      I hear you on the disruptions that we can't control. We carry so much guilt around during a day we don't write and that just isn't fair or "right". Like you, I find that my joy for writing returns after a break. To me, the joy is key to continue following this path.

      Thank you for your lovely comment!

    1. I'm in the zone with number 8 right now, too! I've been working on something pretty different from my last two novels so I've had to work hard at being open so I can see where this path may take me. Good luck on your journey!

  5. Great tips, Heather!
    I love number 8 - be flexible with your vision. It holds true for the book you're writing, even if you KNOW what's going to happen, you have to be open to surprised. And I'm finding how true it is in my writing life as well. I had my next project all mapped out and life took me on a detour - now I'm working on something completely different and having a blast with it.

    1. That happened to me, too, Orly. I'm so glad you're enjoying it. I am, too, after going through the regulatory angst. LOL. But happy as a clam now.

  6. I love #s 2, 5, and 6. Especially 5 and 6, since they tend to go hand in hand. I read articles or Tweets about people who race through their novel writing or revisions... And it discourages me, because (for one reason or another) I don't work as quickly on my stories. Reminding myself to be patient with my writing can be frustrating, but I really need to remember that bit.

    I also like what you listed for #3 under bad advice. So many writers encourage us to use this, that, and the other social media platform... But you only have time or energy for so much. I'm on a couple things in addition to my blog - and that's all I need right now. And I'm happy with that. Plus, it's nice to take a day or two off to disconnect from social media if it drains or overstimulates you too much.

    Really a fantastic article. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Heather!

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Sara! Definitely be patient with yourself. I have to say, I'm three novels and one short story in, and I still have to remind myself to be patient and to honor my process. We all have different processes and that's okay--really great, even--and rushing it or beating ourselves up over it won't change it and only makes us feel terrible. Vive la difference, as the French would say. 🙂

  7. It's raining and chilly. A perfect day for combining #s 4 & 7. Thanks for making me feel extra good about it. 😉 You're one of my most inspiring friends, Heather!

    1. Thanks, Vaughn. You inspire me as well, my friend! Great posts and determination and kind heart. I hope you enjoyed your reading time! I'm all over that tonight. 🙂

  8. Great suggestions; I'm about ready to walk away from #-1 ... I started a blog with a full-blown calendar of daily posts, then let it drop down to just a bimonthly post featuring another industry author, but I can't even keep up with that. And when I do take the time to work on the blog, it's time that I could have been working on my own novel. SO, I think I'll throw up the last few author features that I have in the hopper, and then send out a note saying 'bye bye for now; off to write my novel!' ...

    1. Jessica, I started with my own as well because I thought that's what I *had* to do. I learned a ton doing it and made great connections. I don't regret it, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it to everyone. It's completely abandoned now. I just don't have time. I'm too busy blogging elsewhere, writing books (!), and working/editing with writers who need help, which are all where my heart really lies. Good luck on your novel!

    1. You have some wonderful resources at your site, Lee Ann. Thanks for the sharing this post!

  9. I keep reminding myself about the "enjoy it!" bit: nothing else is guaranteed, so do what you love.

    (On the other hand, I have to hold on to #1, too: Sometimes I have to WMAO a while before I remember that I really do love it.)

    1. I know what you mean, Amy. The "enjoying" part, for me, comes from allowing myself to take the time I need to complete something and that often involves a combination of hard work and rest. Good luck with your manuscript!

  10. Great advice! Best writing advice I've been given is to get into a serious critique group. It's done wonders, and I couldn't do what I do without them!

  11. I never understood the writing advice of "write what you know". Where would all the SciFi writers be? Or the history writers? Or the fantasy writers? Never made sense to me.
    The best advice I got was, Write what you love. Write characters that can be related to. I try to do that. My character in my WIP is a strong, ass-kicking woman with a soft side and a love for animals. She is vulnerable, yet strong. Like most women I know.
    Thanks for the great tips!

    1. I love your point about SF, since that's what I write. In fact, Laura Drake and I had a throw down a couple of years ago on the "write what you know" topic!

  12. Practice practice practice. Write write write.

    After about 7 years of hammering away at this craft, I've come to realize nothing helps but practice. And having a good editor.

  13. I think of my writing as the hours of practice I did when I played the piano competitively. Without the practice, I couldn't master the piece or pull out the nuances in the performance.

  14. Awesome advice, Heather. Super on the things we have to do, and I'm so thrilled to see the last one on the bad advice list. I don't write new words every day on the WIP. I do writing related work everyday and some of it is creative, but what works best for me is disappear into it the book for a whole weekend at a time without the interruptions of life including SM. This might not work for others, but the key is really to find what works for us. And we're all different. So thanks for giving me permission to write the way I do. LOL I'll share for sure.

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