I've been writing a long time but I'm not done learning. I believe I get better with every book I write and I still go to other writer sites for advice. These are just a few things I have learned in my writing. Take from it what you will.
1) Write the book that you want to read. Chances are you go to the bookstore (LOL, I mean Amazon) with a certain kind of book in mind. Maybe you're easily satisfied with a certain genre of choice, but sometimes you're looking for a very particular kind of book. Chances are, that book hasn't been written. It exists somewhere deep inside you, like a wonderful, literary parasite in your brain – dig it out, put it into words, and share your parasite with the rest of us. . . Ick. Anyway. Don't follow trends as to what's selling. That stuff changes so quickly that even the big wigs can't keep up with it. Write YOUR book, that one you wish was on the bookshelf next to your favorites—that's the one we want to read.
2) Limit the bullshit as much as possible. Your first draft has too much bullshit. Mine does, too. I think everybody's first draft has too much bullshit. As writers, we're always trying to SAY SOMETHING when often times the characters are saying it all for us. Go through your manuscript, look for bullshit, and cut it out. Sometimes bullshit is beautiful—the prose, the wonderful meaning it represents, and so on. If you're in love with a certain piece of bullshit – indeed, if you love it so much that you don't think it's bullshit at all, but rather BRILLIANT WRITING – then keep it. You know best. But often times this sort of writing sticks out. It smells bad. It's like the literary equivalent of an ingrown toenail just waiting for a table leg. Get surgical.
3) "Write what you know" is like a quote from scripture—everyone has a different idea as to what it means. I'll tell you my idea of what it means. I used to think it meant something very oppressive. Like, if you're a cop, write a crime novel. If you're a doctor, write a medical thriller. If you're a janitor, write. . . a janitor thriller. If this is how that piece of old advice was meant to be read, then that's madness. It's wrong and I feel I can confidently assume that it has ruined the dreams of many an aspiring author over the years. . . I see it like this. I love science fiction and horror. I grew up on books and movies of those genres. I'm one step ahead of the scientist's doubletalk in a piece of sci-fi and I know when the decapitated head is gonna show up in horror. I KNOW these genres. So, I write what I know. I do not however think it is wise for me to write a legal thriller. I liked Boston Legal, but I'm not confident enough to tackle that genre. My legal thriller would have to feature monsters in the courtroom in order for it to work. Nor am I ready to do chick-lit, cozies, romances, police procedurals, and so on. I don't know them like I know what I know. I write what I know I know. Simple? Simple.
4) You'll develop your voice over time. If you're not there yet, don't worry. It'll happen—like puberty! But don't you dare try to mimic someone else’s voice. Nothing feels more inauthentic than trying to be someone else in your writing. I mean, go right ahead pretending to be someone else in real life. That's what I do. But your writing must be honest, it must be YOU. It's even worse if the reader figures out who you're trying to be, because not only then are you found out like a masked bandit, but you've perhaps insulted a reader who is also a fan of the writer you're emulating. . . Listen: You're writer, right? You're goddamn unique already. Don't go trying to smother that under the mask of someone else. Be yourself, it's why we like you. I mean, shit. I thought that was obvious.
5) Use caution writing characters much smarter than you are. Now, your own experiences may vary, but I've found that writing brilliant characters only makes me look dumb because, well, I'm not brilliant. And thus, how can I expect anyone to think my characters are brilliant? I'm just posing and so are my characters. Again, this is just something I have learned about myself and my own writing. You're probably wiser than me, maybe you're even a genius. If so, write your own Sherlock-ish hero and make your money. I will weep and hold Lady Jealousy close. She's the only one who truly understands me!
6) Reading a lot is required for any writer, but you already knew that. I think that movies are important, too. Personally, I've learned a great deal from film. People always say listen to the conversations around you to learn how to write dialogue. This is true, but most conversations we're privy to aren't made up of rich, dramatic material. While I don't recommend that you steal lines from a movie you saw, I do think it's wise to listen to how the characters speak. What lines simply can't be pulled off when spoken aloud? How does line delivery and timing alter a dramatic/funny conversation? How does tension escalate as the conversation goes on? Learn that stuff. There are so many books I read with dialogue that simply couldn't be spoken aloud without a few snickers in the audience. A reader hears voices in his head when reading your words. Make it like the movies, writer friend. Give your characters lines that can be spoken out loud without ridicule.
7) Keep your writing brisk, your paragraphs short, and your rambling under control. People are becoming increasingly impatient and their attention is divided in every direction. I mean, I admit to being an impatient reader. If I'm bored with your prose that seems to be going nowhere, I might skim ahead to the next bit of actual character movement or dialogue. I know I'm bad, but I'm not the only one. Trouble is, before you had to deal with readers who skimmed your work, now you've got worse things to worry about. More and more people are reading their books on tablets (like me!). Unlike a trusty paperback, tablets can do more than just turn from one page to the next. Now you're competing with twitter, tumblr, email, and Fruit Ninja. You have to hold their attention like a vice, making sure they don't minimize their reader and go slice up watermelons. The best way to do this is to keep things going at a good pace and keep the paragraphs short so as not to tempt an impatient reader to look elsewhere.
8) Be bold. If you've got two ways of doing a scene, go with the original, daring choice every time. Not everyone will like it. Some people will hate it, others simply won't understand it. But the right people will dig it. They'll love you for your daring and these are the sort of readers you were after in the first place. There's little use to playing it safe, unless you're writing cute puppy stories. If you're writing cute puppy stories, then by God, play it safe. The cute puppy story crowd will burn you alive if your final chapter ends with the cute puppy in the jaws of an alligator. It's just not done, son. But if you're writing a dramatic piece of fiction, some clouded window to the way that you see the world, then give us all you've got. We can take it.
9) Some people need to write in silence. I get it. The voices in your head may be a quiet bunch, unable to speak out over the television set, the crying baby, or your favorite rock album. I say this: if music soothes your muse's soul, then crank it up. If the TV isn't a distraction but rather a bit of white noise for the background, then turn it on. You know best. There's no rule against it. We're all different. Me, I like listening to instrumental music with my writing. I try to create a soundtrack for my novel, often picking scores that evoke a similar mood to the story I'm working on. It works for me, it might work for you.
10) Write every day. It's difficult, I know. I don't mean you should write the same amount every day. That's too much to put on you. But you really must write every day. Two main reasons! One, you'll keep the flow of the story going. Character motivations can be lost if you don't visit them every day, and characters drive your plot. So, without a rich, motivated character, your plot is gonna have trouble. Plus, you gotta finish this thing sometime soon before you forget why you started it in the first place. Secondly, I've found that the more you write the more you want to write. Truth! It becomes something you'll look forward to, like a little piece of the day that you need to get done in order to feel like the day was not wasted. The more you write the better you get at writing, too. There's really no downside to writing every day. . . other than cutting out a few hours from your social life, carpal tunnel syndrome, loneliness, talking to yourself, knowing your created characters better than your family and friends. . . but basically, there’s no real downside. . .
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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