Tuesday, October 8, 2013

5 Things Every Writer Needs To Know

If there's one thing you'll find aplenty on the internet, it's advice. Advice for just about anything you ever needed advice on, and scores of things you don't.

Too much advice is, well, too much.

The one thing I've noticed is that most of the so-called advice is little more than a rehash of the same 'advice' found on dozens, maybe hundreds, of other sites. Advice is most often overrated.

This is sure to rankle a few well-meaning advice-givers, and that is not my intention.

So, in keeping with the overall view that people tend to read blogs that offer up a list, I've compiled my own list of five things every writer should know:

1) Most people who give you advice probably mean well.

When we see or hear something we think helpful, or informative, our knee-jerk reaction is to share it. Nothing wrong with that. The problem, though, is that sometimes things tend to get repeated to the point of repetition simply because they are repeated so much. People drift toward a herd mentality when it comes to these things. If everyone else is doing it, or thinking it, it must be right. Right? I could easily go political here, but I'll refrain.

2) What works for one, or many, may not work for you. Be yourself.

Writing fiction takes some degree of talent and a ton of hard work. Minus either, the result won't be spectacular. Even if every best-selling author on the shelf at Barnes and Noble did it a certain way (they didn't) doesn't mean you should. Tom Clancy, for example, didn't sit down and write his first novel to fit the template in place at that time for thrillers -- he created a new template. Clancy broke free of the boundaries in place for writers of thrilling fiction and applied his own style. I think it worked for him.

3) Go with your gut.

This is a continuation of #2. If you have what it takes (to write, sing, insert just about anything here) then you will know when you get it right. More importantly, because it will come first, you'll know when you don't have it right. Listen to your gut. Stand or fall on what YOU think is right, because in the end, it's your name on the line.

4) The only word you should never use is never.

I was reading a blog the other day about words a writer should never use. While I'm sure the writer of that blog meant well, as did the throng of me too! commenters, a seasoned writer should keep in mind that aspiring writers devour such advice and too often take your words literally. An example, in that blog, was that a writer should NEVER use the word walked. Never say Tom walked to the door. Say he sauntered to the door. Tom meandered to the door. Or, Tom sulked to the door. Okay, but what if Tom actually did just walk to the door? Personally, as a reader, few things make me throw a book aside faster than an author who uses colorful words to prop up lazy writing. People walk. Yes, they saunter sometimes. Sometimes they amble, but to say they should NEVER walk is absurd.

There was quite a list of words a writer should NEVER use. Of course you should avoid overusing words. I almost never use the word that, for instance, but I would never tell someone NEVER to use it. To be fair, the author of that blog did include a disclaimer that her rules should be applied with common sense, thereby negating her own use of the admonition NEVER, but such a disclaimer can easily be lost on someone eager to find advice to make his or her writing better.

So, to repeat, the only word a writer should NEVER use, is never. And by that I don't mean the actual word. I mean the notion that writing fiction has any hard set of rules. The page is your canvas. Words are your paint. Feel free to splash ... maybe even get a little paint on your hands. Be you.

5) If you are in it for the money, do something else.

We can all name a handful of authors who have money spilling out of his or her pockets, but percentage wise, writing fiction is probably not the quickest, or most effective, way to get rich. Good writing comes from passion. Do it because you can't not do it. Any money you make along the way is icing on the cake. And, if you do manage to become insanely wealthy, be careful when you dole out advice to the rest of us. We may be listening.