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Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Writing advice that actually works

As an aspiring writer there is a lot of temptation to look for the big secret to doing good work, to seek that one gem of advice that will put you over the line. I found myself starting down that path. I bought a few books on the craft (at least I made sure they were produced by actual writers). I started following blogs and twitter streams of hoping to get some insight into the process that works for various authors.I started listening to podcasts about writing and writers. I've heard 'Heinlein's Rules' and read Terry Pratchett's 'Writing Secrets.' It has all been helpful, but it still didn't tip me over the edge to where I needed to be... actually writing.

Most writers seem to be in agreement that the not-so-secret path to success is to write. Write a lot. On that note I would like to introduce the most helpful piece of advice that I have come across, because it has really started to work.

These are Gene Wolfe's five pieces of 'writerly advice':

1.   Get up early and write.
2.   Read the type of fiction you’re trying to write.
3.   Remember that characterisation is what makes your story stand out.
4.   You do not characterise by telling the reader about the character, you do it by showing the character thinking, speaking and acting in a characteristic way.
5.   Do not start a story unless you have an ending in mind. You can change the ending but start with a destination.

I could have just stopped at 1. Obviously Wolfe makes some helpful points about the craft and about audience, but at this stage I am just very happy to be writing. The idea of getting up an hour or so earlier than usual and dedicating that time to writing is working. It does mean that by the time I go to bed at night I am genuinely tired, and I struggle to be productive in any way after about 9 p.m., but I am writing. Whether I am writing well remains to be seen.

Thank you Gene Wolfe.

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