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Good Advice, Bad Advice: Writing through the “Shoulds”

How many posts can we read on writing advice? I’ve read hundreds, bought at least a dozen craft books, and, yet, I always come back for more. Why is that? I’m passionate about improving my craft, but also for me, it’s about inspiration. I’m always hoping to find a little nugget to light a fire under me, or find some fresh way of looking at an issue that has me stumped with a new project. Each book, each project, after all, has a unique set of needs. So without much ado, I’m going to share a few of my own writerly tips.

We begin with the very most important point:

1.Work your butt off. No really, WORK YOUR BUTT OFF. Writing is challenging and exhausting and time-consuming (and magical and exciting and so much fun and we’re the luckiest people around), but there’s no room for excuses. People who make excuses don’t run the world. They don’t finish short stories or books or become published. If you want to write, then make like Nike and JUST DO IT, and do it with all your heart.

2.Be humble. When a writer behaves like a special snowflake, their writing life is often an arduous one—both on the page because of internal expectations, and also with others in the business of publishing because of prima donna behavior. No one likes to be around an ego-maniac or a drama queen. They aren’t fun to play with, and they are especially difficult to work with. Another note on this. The most difficult thing about the publishing industry is that one minute you’re flying high and full of hope and promise because you’ve just signed with someone, or had a book release and it’s selling well. The next minute, you’re looking for a new agent or editor, or a book you loved doesn’t sell well (or at all), and you have to fight your way to another deal. This isn’t to be a downer, but to ground you in reality so you may have the best tools on your path to success. One minute we’re up, the next we’re back in the trenches, so it’s important to remain humble and generous with others. We, the creative talent in this operation, must stick together and help each other out. And remember, you aren’t better than anyone else, at least not for long.

3.Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Life is hard enough as it is. Dump the dead weight, the nags, the negative nellies, and the poor-mes. They add nothing to your life, weigh you down, and they sure as hell don’t help you feel good about yourself in a difficult business. I think this is especially hard to do for women because we have a tendency to want to take care of everyone, not rock the boat, avoid drama. The best way to avoid drama is to eliminate these people from your life. You’re worth it. Your passion for writing and great story is worth it. Surround yourself with people who fill you up and challenge you, not those who deplete you.

4. Read every single day. There is always time. Everyone can read for ten minutes before bed, or listen in the car, or while cleaning or cooking or walking. Lose sleep, even just a few minutes. Reading matters. There are dozens of studies that show its direct correlation to writing skills. Not only that, but it’s a terrific way to study the craft while enjoying yourself. I’ve learned more from reading fiction than all other methods combined.

5.Consistency matters more than quantity. Some days we write 500 words, some days three sentences, others 3,000 words. Don’t judge your quantity, judge your routine, your dedication, and your consistency. The turtle wins the race.

6.Don’t compare your journey to others. For one thing, it doesn’t help us write any better or sell more books. For another it makes us feel like a loser. It’s easy to be eaten up with envy in a creative business. Transform that envy to fuel, to once again, WORK YOUR BUTT OFF. And always be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Seriously, be proud. You’ve earned every tiny and major success, including finishing a scene, a chapter, a book.

7.Give yourself time to “refill the well”. If you’re writing well or “correctly”, it takes a monumental amount of intellectual and emotional, never mind creative, input. Though exhilarating, it’s also exhausting. Strike out on adventures, dabble in other hobbies or creative pursuits you love. Fill your well with richness and replenish yourself so you have more to bring to the table on that next writing day, or with that next project.

8.Be flexible about your vision. Each book we write changes us. The direction you thought you wanted may not be the place where you end up. Be open to change. It could very well send you to the moon.

9.Don’t forget to live in the present, not just in your fictional worlds. It’s easy for us to get lost in other worlds. That’s one of the biggest draws to writing. But if we don’t have life experiences and interests and knowledge and skills, we would have no creative well in which to dip. Be present. Absorb. Engage. It can only make your books stronger.

Conversely, for all the great advice out there, there’s a bunch of BAD ADVICE as well. A few of my favorites are:

1.Start your own blog, especially to talk about writing. If this is something you enjoy, go for it. But the fact of the matter is, there are hundreds of writing blogs. When you blog about writing, you’re growing your publishing community (definitely a good thing), but it’s NOT a way to reach readers. How many novels have you bought after reading an author’s posts from their writing blogs? I do, however, recommend engaging in a writing blog that is associated with a community like our beloved Writer Unboxed for all kinds of reasons (a post for another day).

2. Write what you know. If we did this, there would be a load of books about writers in yoga pants with huge piles of laundry to wade through. Snoozzzze fest. Obviously I flout this rule completely as a historical writer. You should, too. Part of what is so exciting about this passion of ours is branching out and learning, stretching and growing. Wade into uncharted waters and see what happens. If nothing else, you’ll learn something.

3. Rock social media like it’s going out of style. I enjoy social media as an extrovert. Connecting with people is fun for me since I’m typically alone all day in my fictional world. That being said, the longer I’m in this business, the more I realize how much social media detracts from a writer’s psyche. Also? If you haven’t figured out a way to reach readers online, once again, you aren’t selling books. Choose which platforms you develop wisely. Doing them ALL isn’t effective or practical. (Also, there are some new studies that show social media is indirectly related to book sales, and on a much smaller scale than we realize.)

4.Write every day. This industry is too full of “shoulds” and doesn’t have enough “coulds”. Sometimes you just need a break, (which takes us back to refilling our creative wells). As I said before, WRITING IS HARD. If you don’t rest once in awhile, you may find yourself in burn-out mode.

P.S. If you want to write good books, it never gets easier so you must really LOVE what you do.

 

What’s the best—or worst—advice you’ve heard?

 

About Heather Webb [1]

Heather Webb is the international bestselling and award-winning author of 6 historical novels set in France, including her latest Meet Me in Monaco and Ribbons of Scarlet. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women's Fiction STAR Award. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide and received national starred reviews. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped over two dozen writers sign with agents, and go on to sell at market. When not writing, Heather feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

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