Best advice I’ve ever had
Compiled by Jade Craddock
In the spirit of Oscar Wilde who said that ‘the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on’, here we ask five authors what is the best advice they’ve received in their careers. It’s clearly worked for them! ♥
Rachel Michael Arends
The most stimulating advice on writing I’ve ever received was from John Gardner’s classic book The Art of Fiction, which is chock-full of thought-provoking insights. I took it off the shelf this morning and became lost in the underlined passages on the dog-eared pages of my worn-ragged copy. I discovered Gardner’s book several years ago, after finishing my first attempt at a novel. I was at that coming-of-age, art-meets-business moment, when the creative challenge of wrestling with characters and plot and voice crashed violently against the brick wall of the publishing world. When the smoke cleared, I had the harsh and painful realization that perhaps my literary baby was so ugly no one would ever love it. Gardner’s advice provided the inspiration I needed to roll up my sleeves and re-write my novel, and to keep re-writing, as many times as it took to find it a safe and nurturing home. That first novel, called Settling, will be my third published novel, out September 1.
At the launch of my debut, As Is, Barnes and Noble asked me to share my own Top Ten Hints for Aspiring Writers. While Gardner’s advice is lofty and inspiring, mine is mundane and practical. I humbly offer it to you. Happy writing! http://www.barnesandnoble.com/nookpress-blog/guest-post-rachel-michael-arends-offers-top-ten-writing-tips/
I’ve just made my third false start on a novel. Twenty five thousand words are headed for the rubbish bin. I’m scribbling in circles. The more I write, the less clear my plot. You want to know the best writing advice I’ve ever been given? Believe me, so do I right now.
I forget where it comes from. The advice. Mostly it feels like it’s learnt through experience. Like now. To deal with an absence of ideas, I have to relax, spend time reading authors I like and do something physical like cleaning the house. I’ve got to create space in my head for the idea to come. It’s hard to surrender control but beating myself up about it never works.
That doesn’t mean I believe in waiting for inspiration. I turn up at my desk to write every day even if it’s to write rubbish. Setting myself a word count keeps me focused. Make sure your goal is attainable. Maybe it’s just 200 words a day. If you set it too high and don’t get it done, you’ll feel rubbish about yourself. Be reasonable. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
If writing is just a hobby to you, it will remain a hobby. You’ve got to treat it like a job. Being stuck sometimes is part of the job. But you’ll get past it. You just have to keep turning up for work.
When you’re an aspiring author, advice is pretty easy to come by. Nowadays, there are plenty of writing blogs out there, ready to dispense pearls of wisdom to those with stories brewing in their brains. When I decided to really give writing a shot three years ago, I accessed loads of them in a bid to find out the secret to being a successful author. Through the swathes of tips and tricks, hints and secrets, one piece of advice stood out: Write Foxy.
Right now, you’re probably thinking ‘eh? What does that mean when it’s at home?’ Well I’ll tell you: Write Foxy is the brainchild of bestselling author Miranda Dickinson. It basically means that you should write what you love and to hell what everyone else thinks. To Write Foxy means to write the story that’s in your heart and not try to write what you think other people might want. It encourages you to love your stories and create something you bounce out of bed each morning to write.
As writing advice goes, I don’t think it comes much better than that. Love what you write and write what you love.
The best writing advice I’ve ever been given is to make readers care about your characters by showing their emotions. How? That part is a bit trickier — and multi-layered.
Let’s talk about fear.
Do you like Disney World or do costumed characters make you cower? What would happen if you were ten years old and your grandparents took you to Disney World because it was their “happiest place on earth?”
The moment you enter the gates of Disney World, you spot Mickey Mouse coming your way. What happens first? You have a visceral reaction, your body’s automatic response. Your heart races. Your armpits sweat. Your legs go soft beneath you. Then what? You have a few internal thoughts: I knew this was going to happen. Why did I come here? Why do I always do what I’m told?
Now layer in actions, dialogue, and more internal thoughts.
You react to avoid the situation by grabbing your grandparents’ hands. You tell them you’re hungry and ask them to take you for something to eat. They ask you if you’re feeling well, and you say that you’re fine. You lie because you don’t want to disappoint your grandparents.
When you’ve successfully avoided Mickey Mouse, your body’s visceral reactions reverse. As a writer, you show that, too.
Try this exercise for other emotions. Happy writing!
I was a reluctant writer: reading was my great passion. However, once I had been persuaded to try to write a novel, and then offered my first two-book contract, it was my husband, Rodney, who gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when it comes to the hard graft of finishing a novel to a deadline. His advice was: ‘Keep hitting the keys’.
We all know how easy it is to put off writing when the words won’t come, or the plot is stuck or we are feeling jaded. So much easier to make another cup of coffee, do some weeding, go for a walk – though that can be helpful to start ideas moving – than contemplating the agony of a blank screen. However, the longer we postpone the moment the harder it becomes to re-enter that alternative universe.
I find that by typing something – relevant, of course, but which can be easily erased – then somehow the imagination does seem to fire itself up again and things start to flow.
Stories are conceived in many different ways but it is only by hitting the keys that the finished work finds its way to your editor’s desk.