“You want me to do … what?” // The Worst Writing Advice You’ve Ever Received

Yestervery-good-advice-1434724613day, I came across this post: The Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice You Will Ever Hear (And Probably Already Have). It breaks down some of the tired maxims thrown at every budding writing and explains why, while they might work sometimes, they don’t work all the time. It’s so true — While there may be tons of resources online for writers, not all of these tips, tricks, and tools bear the … ripest, tastiest of fruit. Meaning —

I’ve read some doozies out there. Advice that’s misguided at best, flat-out wrong at worst; tips that are outdated; suggestions for improvement that would actually make the piece about 1000 times worse. So, today I pose a question: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

The worst advice I’ve ever seen on a blog post was about writing detailed sentences. The post said something like: “To write ‘She knocked on the door’ is boring and unimaginative. Instead, write: ‘She rapped her knuckles on the worn oaken door.'”

I … no. I don’t agree with this. Sometimes, if a character needs to open a door, just let them open the door. It moves the scene along quickly and avoids the pratfall of purple prose, which — if you’re rapping your knuckles against anything oaken, you’re already in severe danger. Violet Beauregard going violet danger.

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The other advice I received that I couldn’t help but shake my head at was given to me by my dad. He told me that I should include my character’s specific height, weight, hair color, and detailed physical characteristics in the first paragraph of the story. My reaction:

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I firmly believe such details should come organically, dropped into the story when they’re relevant. Sure, you want to give your readers an idea very early on of what a character looks like, but you rarely need to tell them the exact poundage this guy is carrying or that girl’s height down to the last inch!! It’s rare that omission will stop the story from progressing, and it’s absurd to think it needs to be in the very first paragraph. (tbh, no offense, father.)

Those are the worst I can think of, so now I turn it over to you: dear writers and book bloggers, what’s the most confusing, misguided, blatantly terrible advice you’ve come across??

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Tips for Distraction Free Writing

As much as I love to write, I have a hard time getting into, and staying in, the “I’m working and focusing and being productive” mindset. Every time my phone dings or vibrates I have to snatch it up to see what’s happened; I have a tendency to spend much more time rereading what I’ve written than I spend writing something new; and it’s incredibly hard to stay in a word processor when I’ve got that internet browser open in the background, with Twitter just begging to be updated, Tumblr to be scrolled, and CNN.com to be glanced at quickly so I can act like I know something about current events.

So, if you’re like me, and have a desperately difficult time keeping yourself focused, here are a couple tricks and tips I’ve found useful, for when I really need to buckle down and write.

Try an app like WriteRoom, WriteOrDie, OmmWriter, or similar, (even Microsoft Word has a full screen Focus mode) that gives you a full-screen, no-nonsense, no-distraction view of your work. I love WriteRoom — it opens to a full black screen with a green font that makes me feel like a hacker in the earliest days of the internet. It’s also super easy on the eyes, and keeps me from getting overwhelmed by opening and flip-flopping between a ton of documents. I wouldn’t write my whole manuscript in WriteRoom, as it doesn’t do pages, italics, or anything like that, but it’s perfect for sprints, NaNoWriMo writing marathons, and those days when you just want to get words down.

Set a timer on your phone and down let yourself stop writing until it’s gone off. This works doubly well if you turn off your phone’s internet and place it inconveniently out of reach, so you’re not sabotaging yourself by checking it over and over.

Take the notebook and go somewhere outside, away from the Internet, to write by hand. Moving to different locations always helps me think, and I find I really need to write by hand when I’m still in the out-lining, figuring stuff out, “ack what is this thought I’m trying to capture???” stage of writing. I also like to number two to five pages at the start of the session and not let myself go inside until I’ve filled them all out.

And my final tip for distraction-free writing:

Be super interested in what you’re writing about. Much has been said for writing whether you feel inspired or not, but if your writing session feels like you’re wading through molasses, you might be not only torturing yourself, but not producing anything worth using. The best writing is going to come when you’re totally INTO whatever it is you’re working on. So, follow your whims — don’t handcuff yourself to a scene you’re not feeling. Jump ahead, jump around, write something you really want to write.

I like to read a little before I write, either a novel, part of my WIP, or even a book about writing to get myself in the right mindset — usually, by the time I’m sitting down to write, a certain scene, character, or snippet of dialogue is already floating to the surface, begging for my attention. When that happens, it doesn’t matter if my phone is chiming or what’s going on around me — my own fascination in my story trumps any distraction.

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So, my fellow writers and procrastinators, what are some tactics you try to keep yourself focused? Do you use any special apps or writing programs? And how do you avoid the temptation to update Twitter every two minutes? Leave a comment, tell me your secrets!

First Draft Got You Feeling Fatigued? How to stay motivated when your story has lost its steam

fullimagewtfYou know the feeling. You were super excited about your book, all the words were flying out of you, the characters were yammering on inside your head so clearly you really could hear them, everything was going great

And now … you don’t know what to do.

First drafts almost always feel like this, at some point. That initial burst of inspiration has dwindled away and we start to feel pretty daunted; maybe our word count isn’t where we want it to be, or our story isn’t as good or exciting or as competently written as we’d hoped. Our Inner Editor is whispering nasty things in our ears. The urge to quit might be growing too strong to ignore.

If you’re feeling exhausted and getting stuck in the endless ream of drivel you believe your draft to be, here are some things I think will help keep your spirits up, keep your fingers moving, and keep that word count growing.

Continue reading “First Draft Got You Feeling Fatigued? How to stay motivated when your story has lost its steam”

Sitting Down to Write: How to Start When You’re Stuck

We all know the feeling. You’ve got a scene in your head you want to write, but your brain isn’t working. Your fingers won’t cooperate. Maybe it’s your keyboard that has it out for you. Whatever the case, you can’t think. You want to start, but you’re stuck.

 

(I have gotten so much traction out of this gifset. I could use this in every post.)

Here are a couple of tricks I find really handy for that first half-hour when you’ve sat at your desk, opened your laptop or your notebook, and gone “… oh no.”

1. Make a list of sensory words to put you in the mindset of your scene.

What’s your character seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Touching? Say I’m writing a scene where my main character is running from a monster in a rainstorm. I might make a list like this:

mud, muck, slippery, splatter, pouring, shoes squelching, shivering, sheets of rain, buckets, splashed, slipped; snarling, slobbering, growling, thundering paws; spikes of lightning, blinding, flash, silver; panting, whimpering, skidding, falling, crashing

This’ll help you visualize the scene and get into the headspace.

Continue reading “Sitting Down to Write: How to Start When You’re Stuck”

Are Your Characters Faceless Blobs? (Or, How Exhaustively Do You Describe Your Characters?)

Writers tend to be of two minds when it comes to describing a character’s physical appearance. Either they like to a) introduce each character with a fully-fleshed description that gives the reader an instant picture in their mind, or b) sprinkle in details sparingly, when they come up organically in the story.

(Of course, there are some writers who prefer a third option, c) divulge nothing about the characters save, basically, their names. This tactic, I DO NOT recommend. The idea behind it is, I guess, noble: to let your readers form their own interpretation of a character’s physicality free from the author’s influence, and to avoid bogging down the prose with a clunky descriptive paragraph. I can see what these writers are trying to do, only most of the time … they don’t do it. They end up creating faceless blobs: featureless talking heads that leave little impression on the reader.)

So, when it comes to describing characters, how much detail is too much? Should we saturate our pages with description, or sprinkle them?

Continue reading “Are Your Characters Faceless Blobs? (Or, How Exhaustively Do You Describe Your Characters?)”