All You (N)ever Wanted: My favourite (and least favourite) writing advice

Ah – writing advice.

If there’s one thing writers do with as much (if not more!) enthusiasm as actual writing, it’s seeking advice on writing.

The internet positively teems with the stuff.  Plus anyone with even the smallest portion of a novel either on their computer or in their soul is guaranteed to own at least one writing how-to book.

(Personally, I have four, plus a duo tang full of photocopied notes, and numerous downloaded webpages.)

But how much this boundless writing advice is of practical use?  At a recent meetup of the writing group I lead, this was the discussion topic du jour: writing advice – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Everyone was to come prepared to share the best piece(s) of writing advice they’d ever heard/read/received, and the worst piece(s).

I have five pieces of favourite writing advice – the specific tips that have really stuck with me over the years, and helped me straighten out some of my own writing flaws.  And so, I give you…

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Don’t Talk About Fight Club: A writer’s paranoia in discussing a WIP

“What’s your novel about?”

Four simple words that never fail to strike terror in my heart.

Part of this is because such a simple query is seeking an equally concise reply – the dreaded “elevator pitch”, which is an art form of brevity on par with the haiku and the perfectly witty Tweet.  Plus, I’m almost never as glib a speaker as I wish when put on the spot like that.

As well, I dislike stating definitively that my WIP is the story of XYZ, when the end result may well come to be significantly different.

Stories are like life: more possibilities and purpose emerge the further along you go.  And just like life, it’s rather invalid to summarize the meaning of it all before it has approached its ultimate end.

Finally, I fear opening myself up to premature criticism of my plot through my inability to properly explain it while still in progress.  Or conversely, premature interest, and subsequent probing questions.

As a result of all this, when Australian historical fiction author Debbie Robson asked me to participate in the blog meme known as The Next Big Thing, I said, “Sure.”

Because why be consistent with one’s own personality traits?

Admittedly, I did offer the caveat that my answers would be vague, superstitious, and paranoiac since I am indeed all of the above.  Furthermore, having since put my blog on its 600-word diet gives me even more of an excuse to be equivocal.  Thus, without further ado:

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Writing Inside the (Out)Lines – Redux: A Creative Departure

(Or, Why Much of What You Plan in Your Outline Will Get Changed Along the Way)

A Distractions & Subtractions post for Rule of Stupid

Writing a novel is an endeavour of many emotions:

  • The excitement at having an idea take root in your head.
  • The pride you feel every time you sit down at the computer and add new words.
  • The anxiety that maybe you won’t be able to capture your idea in words as clearly as it plays out in your head.
  • The satisfaction of when all the plot pieces finally fall into place in your mind, and you’re finally convinced that yes, this story works.
  • And then, after months or even years of dedication, when the novel is finally completed, a satisfaction of a different sort that results from having successfully achieved a difficult, long-term goal.

But sometimes, this latter satisfaction comes prematurely; sometimes, satisfaction #2 and satisfaction #1 commingle, until they end up one in the same.

That is to say, sometimes, having devised a fully functional plot in one’s head (or on paper, or on the screen) feels like such a sense of accomplishment, the subsequent desire to actually write the novel disappears.

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Writing Inside the (Out)Lines

A Distractions & Subtractions post

A/N: Check out my Distractions & Subtractions page to read related posts or to submit your own writing subtractions.  I’m writing a blog post for everyone who makes a submission.

Today’s post is one of my own subtractions.  Coming up next week: a post for horror/dark sci-fi/supernatural writer and satirical essayist Eric J. Baker.

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There are many different types of writers producing many different types of writing in many different ways.

Yet, if you examine this creature known as “the writer” at its broadest taxonomical subdivision, you’ll find that most of them can be categorized into one of two main groups:

Plotters.

Pantsers.

Pantsers write by the “seat of their pants”.  I’ve also heard pantsers referred to as “discovery writers” – seemingly a euphemism to make what can nonetheless be a perfectly orderly process sound less disorganized.

Plotters make outlines and do pre-writing, sometimes in massive quantities.  I’ve never heard of any other name for plotters, although that two can be interpreted as one of two extremes: Plot, as in a cunning, sexy, leather-clad precision.  Or plot, as in a burial plot.

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Closing the Dictionary on the Definition of “Writing”

(Or, How to Write When You Can’t, Aren’t, or Don’t Want to be Writing)

A Distractions & Subtractions post for P.A. Wilson

I “wrote” this blog post during a three-day, writing-free recovery weekend after having worked eight days straight plus overtime.

When it comes to long-distance, solo driving, there are two things I know for certain:

  1. It’s a great opportunity to practice your singing, and
  2. It’s the mental equivalent to running a marathon.

This latter point is particularly true when it comes to treacherous, northern mountain highways with a high risk of sudden slides, snow, and wildlife, where night time comes quickly, and the route is more winding than a century’s old river bed.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Coquihalla Highway (BC Highway #5).

Years ago when I still worked in the natural resource conservation field, I had a job in a government-run park in rural southern Ontario located about four hours away from Toronto – a distance most of my colleagues and considered too long to drive on any weekends that weren’t long ones, no matter how much we yearned for bustle of the big city and to visit family and friends.

Vancouver-based thriller/mystery/fantasy author P.A. (Perry) Wilson might beg to disagree that such a distance being too long for weekly travel.  Once a week, for her work, she is forced to drive 10 hours round trip in a single day, part of said journey taking place on the above-lamented Highway#5.

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Always On My Mind (Time Permitting)

Okay, picture it: it’s 7am, and you have to leave for the day within the next half an hour.

Willie would be so disappointed in me.

Willie would be so disappointed in me.

What essentials do you bring with you to get you through the day?

A bag lunch?  Your phone?  Your mp3 player if that’s separate from your phone?  Something to read?  Any of the other following useful items:

  • A pocket knife
  • An extra pair of socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Legwarmers
  • Rain gear
  • Ibuprofen
  • Water
  • Eyeglass cleaner solution
  • A handkerchief
  • Lip balm
  • A USB drive?

Almost all of the above-mentioned are things I carry with me on a daily basis.  Even sunglasses, which I wear all year round, and legwarmers, which are a must in Vancouver, for once the sun goes down, the temperature plummets with it, even in the summer.

But perhaps the very most important thing I pack for a day away from home – something that’s not on the above list due to its lack of material form – is a piece of a story (usually my novel-in-progress, but not necessarily) to think about over the course of the day.

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Me, Myself & iPhone

Is your smartphone usage stifling your creativity?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit right here that I’m a reluctant import into the world of Web 2.0 – not exactly a Luddite, but no early adopter either, not since Gmail first launched and you needed to be invited by an existing user to join.

I’m not on Facebook, I’m terrible at texting, the predominant activity I perform with my phone is talking on it, and I don’t own a smartphone (or rather, don’t own the corresponding data plan required to boost my phone’s intelligence quotient) because

a)  I don’t want to pay for it, and

b)  I couldn’t conceivably fit any more computing time into my day

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The Gift of Boredom

The Fourth Rule of Engagement

We’ve all been there.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an essay for school, a “Dear John” letter to your soon-to-be ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/roommate from Hell, a letter of resignation, a last will and testament, or a manuscript that will someday outsell Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the Bible combined.

At some point in the writing process, you find yourself a little bit stuck and unsure of what to write next.  You find that you need a bit of a break – just a short one – to give your brain a chance to catch its breath from all the mental calisthenics it’s been performing.  And so you click open your web browser, intent on just a quick peek at what’s been happening on the Web while you were busy spinning words into gold.

And then…

And then….

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“Don’t steal my armrest! Quit wrecking my night vision!” (or, Why I Might Have to Stop Going to Concerts)

I am a music lover.

As I mentioned for one of the seven things about me when I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, music is both the filing cabin and the encyclopedia of my mind.  It helps me make sense of my life through my tendency to categorize and understand my various experiences according to specific lyrics or sounds.

Music is also intrinsically tied into my writing life, for I can’t write well without it, and it likewise inspires my daydreams, my imagination, my stories.

My love of music was one of my largest motivators for finally giving up on shared living last year and getting a place on my own, for I couldn’t play my stereo at 6:30am since my roommates didn’t get up that early.

My love of music also resulted in a 30km-journey to the suburbs by public transit to buy a pair of high-end second-hand Harman/Kardon speakers.  I hate public transit.  I’m not wild about the suburbs either.  But I believe that true enjoyment of music is obtained, not through earbuds, but when it’s played aloud and you can feel it in your solar plexus and the soles of your feet.

Hence, my love of concerts.

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In (Sorta) Support of Fan Fiction, pt. 2

(Continued from Part 1)

The Good

I was in grade 11 when I took my first, much-loved, creative writing class.  Except, I don’t actually believe that was my first class.  I think writing fan fiction gave me a far earlier education in writing craft.

I truly do believe this, for writing fanfic offered me ready-made access to what is often the most difficult part of a story to devise from scratch.

Characters.

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