Dopers who Write: Please give some advice on how to get serious about my writing

I generally don’t write every day, but I must write several finished pieces, both fiction and non-fiction, each month for a small, local magazine my wife and I publish. I also write regularly for my “real” nine-to-five job. Having deadlines does wonders for keeping one serious about writing.

I try to write when I feel the writing will flow relatively well. When I’m in the mood. When I feel creative. But most of my work is written when the damn piece has to be finished so I can lay out the pages and get them to the printer. I’m one of those unfortunate souls whose best work seems to come at the last possible second.

Someday maybe I’ll be able to follow the rules: 1) Collect underwear. 2) Write for a certain number of hours every day. 3). . .

For now, though, I write 'cause the stories aren’t gonna write themselves.

You’ve got some solid advice here already. I’d only add, find your temperament.

I think this is especially true of multitasking. I used to try to stick to a rigid production schedule, but now I follow natural selection. If I consistently find myself drifting off a project to other ideas, chances are, that project is inherently weak or not yet ready for active development.

Most other experienced writers I know get up early and write early. I can’t do that. I write absolute crap in the morning. My first real mentor wrote at her kitchen table starting at 4:00 AM every day. Me… I gotta have a completely separate space for my writing. I don’t even allow all my dogs in – only the ones who prove they can abide by the rules.

But yeah, write daily. I have a poster up in my home office, a rip-off of an old Nike poster. It says, “Either you wrote today… or you didn’t.”

Carry a notepad. My advice is not to bring it out in front of other people, but have it there for when you need it.

And don’t forget to read, too. In my classes I always expected to get a certain number of students who felt that reading other authors would taint their style. I don’t know of any successful writer who thinks that way.

Oh, and above all, don’t become married to your writing. “Murder your darlings.”

To the above I’d add – Don’t just Write. Make sure your stuff gets read and commented on – Find a Writing Group to read and critique your writing (and to give you an opportunity to do the same with others). Or get someone to read your stuff and comment on it. (If it’s a friend or a relative, make sure they can be honest).
Pepper Mill read my first draft of Medusa and told me it was boring and read like a thesis. So I chucked it out and rewrote the whole damned thing (several hundred pages). That version sold.

Let me play contrarian and first preface my remarks by saying that I’ve spoken on this topic to the biggest players in the media. I could say more, but I won’t.

Knowing the Elements of Style, writing daily, and maintaining discipline are good ideas, but plenty of so-so writers follow these common prescriptions and get nowhere. If you want to be a success in the fiction genre, you need to master a host of deceptively complex skills and learn the art of storytelling. Reading the Elements of Style or writing daily take you nowhere if you’re just spinning your wheels and haven’t mastered the fundamentals.

Chefs and carpenters do indeed work on their crafts daily. But before embarking on their own, they typically go through rigorous apprenticeships where they learn the fundamentals from square one. While you can learn the essentials of fiction writing on your own, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete in the major leagues unless you’re abundantly gifted–and I’m talking a natural among millions of wannabes. Like an Olympian, you may have the gift, but you need to hone it.

My suggestion is this: make yourself a student of fiction writing and learn from the masters, not from wannabes in a writer’s group. Some are excellent, but I’ve seen too many such groups descend into energy-sucking animosities and thwarted ambition.

If you’re serious–really serious–seek out a top-flight graduate writing program. The trick is finding the right one, but it’s imperative that you plant yourself in fertile ground and let cross-germination take its course. Writing is no different from other disciplines; you should be studying the masters first, before setting off on your own. Take notes. Tear apart great writing and see what’s going on, what works and how they make it work.

I’m not suggesting higher education is the only way to go. But it will be your fastest route and smoothes a learning curve that otherwise can be quite unforgiving.

If you’ve ever skied, you know that learning the technical fundamentals is essential if you want to aspire to the double-black diamonds. Teach yourself skiing and, with much effort, you might become a very competent skier. Receive training from an amazingly talented pro and your success is much more certain and the trademark headaches of learning vastly reduced.

Nothing about fiction writing is easy, but going solo is typically an Eldoradic proposition.

As a professional procrastinator, I mean, as a professional writer I tend to agree with Carnac.

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice. I can’t possibly give Sampiro any advice without knowing what stage he’s at. Learning the fundamentals is very important, true, but I’ve owned Strunk and White for decades and I never look at it except to answer a technical question here on the Dope. I’ve assimilated the basics. They’re less important than you think for anyone who is an educated speaker of English.

The ass-in-chair advice is also something that better applied to some people than others. Admittedly, most would-be writers should be writing daily just to instill the habit and discipline. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Some writers find that putting down crap everyday is more problematic than working through a good understanding of the story in their heads before trying it out on screen or paper. This implies a knowledgeable writer who knows what crap is and some writers can only do this by putting it on paper. But I’ve known several professionals who do all their writing in their head first before simply typing out the words. Again, find the working mode that is best for your individual psyche rather than listening to others tell you How It Should Be.

Graduate writers workshops may work for some people. They are highly controversial, but one thing everyone agrees upon: they are worthless for people who write genre rather than literary fiction. If you write genre, a good local writers workshop - one that has at least some professionally published writers in it - is much handier and far less expensive. You won’t know if one is good until you get into it, but you waste far less of your life finding a new one than having to drop out of a graduate school. Again, Sampiro gives us no clue as to the kind of writing he wants to do. Without that knowledge nothing we say can be all that useful.

Of course, I endorse the Read Good Authors notion. But I also endorse the Read Sucky Authors notion. Take a look at what you consider to be bad writing and try to identify why it’s bad and whether you have any of those traits in your own work. I may never be able to write like the best writers in the world, but I’ve become a good writer by learning to avoid clichés like the plague and trying to ensure that my approach is always original, meaningful, detailed, deft, and respectful of words. I also try to respect the reader by never talking down to them or over their heads.

There are several variations on this quote, but this one is attributed to Gene Fowler:

If this does not fit your conception of writing, stop now and find another pursuit.

I don’t write every day. I’m an in my head writer, whether it’s a novel or a poem. I have to think think think about the writing. Writing glurge every day just depresses me and makes me unwilling to start.

I do have rituals, though. I need something in the background that I can switch my attention to when I’m puzzling over a sentence. Baseball on TV is my favorite thing for this. I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to the game, but it gives me something to look at instead of staring into space. Baseball season is just starting up which means my writing is back in full swing. Weird, I know.

I have found that it is easier for me to write long hand and type it in later. Maybe it is because I am a software programmer by profession and after working all day I just can’t get into working on the computer at night (although I’ll play on the computer at night.)

I have also found that I must put down short scenes when they come to me and worry later about fleshing them out and fitting them in. Sometimes I end up throwing out some solid work, just because I can’t seem to fit it in.

I’m a beginning writer like you, but I do have several habits that helped me get my first novel done. First, like many others have said, try to write every day. This might not work for you, but you should attempt it. And yes, I’ve broken this “rule” and taken some long breaks when I couldn’t think of anything to write. It sucked.

Which brings me to my next point: expect writers block. It will happen, and it WILL suck. Don’t let it kill you. I’ve found that the best way to get out of it is to brainstorm like mad. Can’t figure out how to get your character out of a jam? Pace around a bit and just let your mind wander. Once again, this might not work for you, but it helped me. I’m a “mind writer.” I think of what I want to happen the night before (usually in bed) and then write it down the next day, so brainstorming’s my thing.

Along with trying to write every day, I try to write at least 1000 words a sitting. Sometimes they come easily. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it takes me two frickin hours :mad: . But I try to get them done whenever I can.

I think the best bit of advice I can give, though, is this: Write what you want to read. One of the main reasons I wrote my first novel is because there was nothing like it on the market (at least as far as I’ve seen :slight_smile: ). I wanted a science fiction story that combined a retropunk style world with elements of the supernatural and action. Oh, and lots of robots and propeller driven aircraft. Bizarre? Maybe. But it’s my ultimate novel and I love it. So if all else fails, remember to write what you would want to read.

Good luck, and happy writing. I hope to see you on bookshelves some day :smiley: .