Tag: writing lessons

Sam HawkenYou can.

Occasionally I’ll see an author berate his writerly readers about writing every day and writing oodles of words in every session and to hell with you if you want to spend time with your family and I worked ten jobs, twenty-five hours a day, for six years while writing my first novel!

Ahem.  I can see why that turns some people off.  There are a couple (or more) misapprehensions in this attitude, namely: 1) that people write for hours and hours every week, and 2) that those people turn out words like a crazy.  And the fact is that sometimes there really is little time for writing, and sometimes you really can’t crank out a thousand words at a sit, or whatever.  But you can write, and if you say you have no time and you can’t write any words, you’re not being honest with yourself.

I write a minimum of two thousand words a day, seven days a week.  Monday through Friday I write what I call my Weekday Book (natch), and on Saturday and Sunday I write my Weekend Book.  When the Weekday Book is done, the Weekend Book becomes the Weekday Book and then there’s a new Weekend Book. You follow?  I make time for my writing, even when there doesn’t seem to be time, because it’s important to me.

If you want to write, and I mean you really want to write, then you will write.  Maybe you won’t write two books at once.  Maybe you won’t write for two hours at a time.  Maybe you won’t write two thousand words.  Hey, that’s a lot of twos.  What’s happening there?

Do not say you can’t write.  You can write.  When you don’t, it’s because something else has priority for you.  And if it does, that’s totally fine!  No one says writing has to rule your world.  Simply stop making excuses, and get on with your life.


NoThis doesn’t apply to the hobby writer, but if you are professional, or aspiring to be one, I have some advice you may find useful.  It has to do with when people say no.

Be they editors or agents or what have you, at some point someone’s going to say no to something you’ve written.  Maybe it doesn’t fit what they consider your personal brand.  Maybe it’s “not quite right for us.”  Maybe it’s that, but you could make some changes and then it’ll be right for them.  Maybe it’s not what people are reading right now.  Or at least what they think no one’s reading right now.  Maybe it’s not enough like something you wrote before.  Heck, maybe it’s too much like something you wrote before!

When someone says no, you need to have a good think about what happens next.  Sure, you could ditch your writing and go along with whatever they say.  Or you could dig your heels in and refuse to compromise even a little bit.  But in the publishing business it’s often a straight yes or no, so if you’re going to take the latter option without thinking about it, you’re probably going to lose.

Discouraging, sure, but here’s the thing: what happens is up to you, not to them, whoever “they” are in the situation.  The question becomes whether you truly believe in your work.  Did you do it because of you, or did you do it because you wanted money, or approval, or whatever else?  Is this something you told your way, and can’t be told any way else?

If the story is true to your intentions and your abilities, then you should say no to that no.  Don’t change it to change it, because that will never be right and you will never be happy.  But don’t be difficult about it, either.  Sometimes what works perfectly for you may not fly with others, and no amount of complaining will change that.  In those cases, find another way.  The publishing world is full of opportunities.  Pursue those.  Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.



TypewriterSince I talked about perspective earlier this week on the occasion of my birthday, I’ll share one bit of insight I’ve gotten over the years.  Writers, this one’s for you.

There are no hard and fast rules for storytelling.  Anyone who gives you an absolute is absolutely wrong.  No, that’s not the perspective I’m going to offer, but it’s good to remember regardless.  People have been telling people how to write well since the invention of the sentence, and pretty much all those people have been full of it.  Write the way the piece has to be written in order to tell the story the way it is best told.

I used to think I had to retain all this advice and cling to it like a rock climber.  One thing I heard over and over again: show, don’t tell.  Depending on who said it, this could be taken more literally than from others, but the implication has always been that explaining things is bad and everything should be played out in front of the camera of the reader’s imagination.

It’s possible to get so tangled up in this piece of sage wisdom that your writing will collapse in on itself.  I know mine did.  I was so obsessed with avoiding the “telling” trap that I began to show everything, regardless of whether it was critically important to the story.  And that is not how it’s done, folks.

What’s immediate and brings drama or tension or sadness or any other emotion effective in driving the narrative is what you should show.  If something doesn’t do that, feel free to tell.  Move on to the interesting stuff.

But don’t take my word for it.  What did I say before?  Write your story the way it should be written.  Listen to advice if you want, but always be true to your writing, because that belongs to you.