by Eldred Bird
While perusing the Twitterverse recently, I happened upon a question that caught my interest. Author Jeff Richards asked, “What is your LEAST favorite common writing tip?”
We all have that one piece of advice that makes us roll our eyes when someone feels the need to impart that particular kernel of wisdom. Below, I’ve collected some of the most popular responses from Mr. Richards’ query. Everyone has their own interpretation as to the meaning of these gems. Let’s take a deeper look and I’ll give you my opinion (I’m full of them).
Write Every Day
“Write every day” is the one I hear most often and was also high on the Twitter list. The most common complaints about this piece of advice involve finding the time and/or the inspiration. Both can be quite difficult at times. You need to write consistently, but that may not mean every day in your particular life situation. I like to approach this tip more as, “Make time in your schedule for writing and stick to it.”
The truth is life doesn’t always give us a choice, so do your best and don’t kick yourself to hard when you stumble and miss a day or two (or in my case sometimes weeks). There are times you need to give yourself permission to say, “It ain’t happening today…”
Show, Don’t Tell
“Show, don’t tell” is something I see run up the flagpole at every critique meeting I’ve ever attended. It’s good advice in general, but not something you can avoid in every situation, nor should you. There are many times where telling is not only appropriate, but the most expedient way to get the point across.
Rather than rehash this one, I’ll just point you to a WITS post by Lori Freeland. I’m pretty much in agreement with everything she has to say on the subject.
Don’t Use Prologues
I have to admit “Don’t use prologues” used to be one of my favorite pieces of advice. I always felt the need for a prologue meant you were starting your story in the wrong place. I also found a good number of the prologues I encountered were simply data dumps of back story that could have easily been woven into the fabric of the narrative or eliminated completely.
I’ve flipped my opinion on this one a little. Sometimes a prologue can set the proper mood for a piece or help the reader get anchored in an unfamiliar setting, especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. I think the key is to keep it short and don’t overload the reader with details you can work into the story when they are necessary. A lot of back story can be implied by context and world-building done by your character’s interactions with their surroundings.
We’re all familiar with the Stephen King quote “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” but what does it really mean? Some people say never, never, never, ever use adverbs and preach it with fire and brimstone! Come on folks, we all know there’s no such thing as never when it comes to artistic endeavors like writing.
Yes, you are allowed to use adverbs, but like any other element of writing, don’t over-use them. If your work is being propped up by a multitude of adverbs, it means your primary verbs aren’t doing the heavy lifting. Look for stronger action verbs to do the work. Your readers and your story pacing will thank you.
Write What You Know
“Write what you know” is fairly popular and top of my own list. Most people complained that if we only stick to what we know, we never grow as writers or members of the human race. A few also pointed out that following this advice would preclude you from writing fantasy and science fiction. After all, none of us mere mortals have been to space or Middle Earth or been blessed with the power of magic.
I think the real intent of this advice is that you should bring your own experiences into the writing as much as possible. When writing an emotional scene, recall your own emotional state during a similar situation and apply that to your narrative. The same applies to locations, be they real world or fantasy. Think about the things that catch your eye and give a location character. These details are what make a location real to the reader as well. When building characters draw on people you know or have observed. It will give them more depth and make them more relatable.
It can also mean before you write about a specific subject you need to do a little studying first. I like to twist this piece of advice around to, “Do your research and write what you want to know.”
Some Final Thoughts
When we hear a piece of advice like those above, we should keep in mind that most, if not all, have roots in the truth. They’ve come from the experiences of others who are trying to help by passing on lessons learned from experience. It’s up to each one of us to determine what we do with the advice. Mull it over to see what applies to your work and how it applies. Experiment with it, twist it around, play with it, and when you find what works for you, pass it on.
What do you think of these writing tips? Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) piece of advice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.