I haven’t gotten a lot of writing advice in person. Technically, I haven’t gotten any writing advice in person. Actually, nobody’s ever given me writing advice. At least, not without my asking or having to go looking for it. I’ve searched the internet for writing advice. Most of the advice I’ve gotten from the internet was something along the lines of “Sign up for my email list and I’ll tell you how to fix (insert problem with writing here)”. The problems were usually writer’s block or finding time to write or something else like that. Due to searching for writing help online, my email inbox was full of emails from various writing help email lists that I could never seem to unsubscribe from no matter how many times I hit the button. Sometimes the emails were useful, other times they were advertisements. Eventually, I noticed that the email lists I was unable to unsubscribe from were sending me the same useful emails that I had received when I first signed up. I assumed they had run out of new helpful content to give me, so they sent out the same old stuff. At that point, it didn’t matter what emails they sent to me because I couldn’t unsubscribe anyway. That was when I decided I would be done searching for writing advice online.
Unfortunately, to this day those emails continue to flood my inbox.
Fortunately, I have found writing advice elsewhere.
My English teacher! If I said I got writing advice from my English teacher (which I didn’t say), that would be a lie. My English teachers were all wonderful people and taught me many great things, but nothing about creative writing (besides in seventh grade when we wrote children’s books). Which wasn’t entirely their fault. Most of the problem was that the only curriculum my teachers were given had to do with nonfiction writing. At least, that’s what I’m going to assume. I would hate to think that my teachers have been keeping me from learning how to write about something besides persuasive essays and memoirs. Up until this point, I haven’t been completely honest. At school, I was able to write some fiction, but it wasn’t taught. We had this thing called “Free Write Time”. It was a class period (usually on Fridays) where we were able to write whatever we wanted (I bet you figured that out from the name). So, technically, I was able to write fiction. The problem was I didn’t only want to write fiction; I wanted to know how to write fiction. I wanted to know how to make it good. My English teachers (thus far) have failed to teach me how to do that.
(Before I go on, I want to let everyone know that I respect every single one of my English teachers and what they have taught me. Also, I believe that the most important things my English teachers taught me were grammar and spelling.)
If you’re still reading and have gotten past my ramblings about bad online writing advice and boring English teachers, then I am about to tell you about the best writing advice I have ever received. Are you ready? The best writing advice I have ever received is from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s a terrific book that answered all the questions I had about writing as well as the ones I didn’t know I had. Once I picked the book up, I couldn’t put it down. I’m sad to say this was the first book I’ve ever read by Stephen King. I always imagined the first book I would read by him to be It, Carrie, The Shining, or one of his other horror novels, but I’m not disappointed by the content in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft even though it didn’t keep me awake at night. Overall, it was a great book that I will read several more times. I recommend it to any aspiring writer.
Here are some short notes that I took from the book:
- Read a lot, write a lot
- Form a habit of writing at the same time and in the same place every day
- Be honest in your writing
- Write your first draft with the door closed
- Don’t edit or read your first draft, just keep writing it
- Listen to the critiques of your first and ideal readers
- You don’t have to be an English major
- 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%
- The second draft is with the door open
- Have the first readers be people you trust
- Edit a minimum of six weeks after you finish your first draft
- Writer’s groups/retreats/camps/whatever-you-want-to-call-them are mostly useless
- Don’t over-describe
- Don’t tell something when you can show it
- Adverbs are the death of your writing
- Use the first words that come to your mind no matter how simple
- It’s not about the money