August 04, 2008

Daily Blog 4: Write and Wrong Writing Advice

The Best - and Worst - Writing Advice

Not all writing advice is good, or should be heeded, but some can be invaluable.

Some of the best advice I received (like not broadcasting a character's actions ahead) helped to fix those pesky bad writing habits that you often don't see, and keep repeating, until someone points them out.

Other advice that was invaluable came when it was time to edit Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery. Writing is one thing, I found; editing is entirely different, especially once you go over it several times. After awhile, even correctly spelled words look wrong. Thank goodness for editors and publishers who aren't afraid to use that red pen (or red track changes) and have the patience of saints.

Here's what a few other authors had to say about the best - and worst - writing advice they ever received:

Cracking the Writing Whip

Cynthia Polansky, author of FAR ABOVE RUBIES, says her worst writing advice was to "get up at dawn to get your daily writing quota out of the way. Even if you don't write more content on the book or story you're working on, write something. Just get into the habit of writing first thing in the morning."

She got up every morning at 6 a.m. and wrote, but not on the book she was working on. "I wrote letters to friends. I wrote long, newsy letters on beautiful specialty paper using various handwriting-like fonts. I was a great correspondent, but a poor author. By the time I finished a letter and was ready to start writing for real, it was time to get ready for work."

She finally went back to her tried-and-true method of writing: when she felt like it. " It may have taken me four years to complete the novel, but at least I was writing productively!"

On the Other Hand…

In contrast, Betty Webb, author of DESERT CUT says she's an every-day writer, "whether I feel like it or not," based on advice she received from thriller writer David Morrell, who said, "write every single day... writing is a skill that can decline with disuse."

The worst advice she received? "Write only if you have something unique to say! Believe me, I ignored that advice and followed David Morrell's instead. Uniqueness (also known as "inspiration") begins to happen ONLY after you've written for a couple of hours."

Join a Group,or Two

Terrie Farley Moran says her best writing advice came from Jeremiah Healy, author of the John Francis Cuddy P.I. series and the Mairead O'Clare legal thrillers.

Terrie says she'd spent several years "pounding away on my computer and barely coming out for the light of day" when she accidentally heard about the 2006 Sleuthfest Writers Conference being held near where she was living.

Being a fan of Healy's, she impulsively signed up. Beyond all the great information he gave, she says one thing he said stood out: "If you do nothing else for yourself and your writing, join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.' Until that day I didn't know those groups existed. I joined both and never looked back."

Within a year, her short story "Strike Zone" was accepted for publication in the SinC NY/Tri state chapter anthology, Murder New York Style .

She received excellent support through the MWA-NY mentor program, including a critique of her novel. Her latest short story, "When A Bright Star Fades" is published in the final online issue of Hardluck Stories.

Terrie now believes in passing on that same advice to other writers - find a group related to the genre you like to write. Follow it online if you can't attend meetings. "Two years ago I didn't know the first thing about the writing industry or the writing community," she says. "Today, I have a cadre of friends, supporters and advisers, thanks to Jeremiah Healy pointing me in the right direction.

So You Think You Can Write...

For a different perspective, authors Mary Reed and Eric Mayer of SEVEN FOR A SECRET share a funny moment in their writing lives.

"The comment that lives on in legend for us is from a fellow who addressed Eric as Mr. Big Shorts and told him his writing sucked," Mary says. "Unfortunately, no helpful advice on how to correct the problem was included in the communication so we never got the chance to see if it would work."

Let that be a lesson to critics.

** Any good or bad writing advice you'd like to share?


  1. I think I've heard it all: always set aside time to write/ snatch time when you can. Always start with a blank page/ never finish a chapter at the end to pick it straight up the next day. Read around whilst you're writing/ don't contaminate your work whilst reading.
    What did I learn from this, find what works for you and don't be afraid to try things in case they do.

  2. Do what works for you. That's good advice.

    And I would probably add, don't go too long without writing. You can take a break, but if it stretches too long, then it's hard to get back into it or to carve out the time that's now gotten taken over by something else.

  3. The worse advice I was given was to write category romances first to break into the industry.
    Why was that wrong for me? Most category is character-driven.
    I'm plot driven.
    I only lost a year or so.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Great column. I am honored to be a part of it.


  5. Great advice! I've really enjoyed all of your August daily blogging!


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