Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong

This post by Daniel José Older originally appeared on Seven Scribes on 9/9/15.

Writing advice blogs say it. Your favorite writers say it. MFA programs say it.

Write every single day.

It’s one of the most common pieces of writing advice and it’s wildly off base. I get it: The idea is to stay on your grind no matter what, don’t get discouraged, don’t slow down even when the muse isn’t cooperating and non-writing life tugs at your sleeve. In this convoluted, simplified version of the truly complex nature of creativity, missing a day is tantamount to giving up, the gateway drug to joining the masses of non-writing slouches.


Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.


Read the full post on Seven Scribes.


The Utility (and Trappings) of the Novel Outline

This post by Jamie Kornegay originally appeared on Writer’s Digest on 2/12/15.

I’ve been selling books for more than fifteen years and learning to write novels even longer. Of all the author readings and Q&A sessions I’ve hosted (and attended), one of the most common questions among beginning writers, even curious readers, is this: Do you start with an outline?

You’ve heard the pros and cons. An outline helps organize your thoughts and prevents you from spinning your wheels and traveling down dead-end storylines. The flipside, of course, is that constructing an outline boxes you in and limits the possibility of discovery, which is the most creative and rewarding part of writing.

First, it’s important to note that there are no ironclad rules to novel writing. Every writer works differently and stumbles upon his or her preferred method through trial and error. The novel, rather than writing advisers, should tell you what it needs.

The traditional term paper outline, with its Roman numerals and letters, is helpful to organize a finite amount of information, but a novel is more amorphous. I couldn’t begin to collect a novel’s potential in an outline, though I certainly understand the impulse. There’s something terrifying about the blank page and its stark white emptiness. What could you put there that anyone would want to read?


Read the full post on Writer’s Digest.


How to Write a Book or Blog (The 6 Danger Stages You Need To Overcome)

This post by Ali Luke originally appeared on Write to Done on 7/24/14.

You’ve probably had the experience of starting a novel or blog with great intentions…

…only to find that, a few months later, you’ve barely made any progress.

Maybe you started strong but lost momentum.

Maybe you jumped ahead when you should’ve paused.

Or maybe you got discouraged and gave up.

And you wonder: how to write a book (or blog).

I’ve coached many writers in workshop groups over the past few years, and I’ve noticed that there are six key stages when projects often stall or go wrong.

Here’s what to watch out for.


Danger Stage #1: Once You’ve Got a Great Idea

Let’s say you’ve got a new idea you’re excited about. Perhaps it’s a great premise for a novel, a topic for a blog, or a prompt you want to work on for a short story.

Writers tend to make one of two mistakes here:

They jump straight in, full of enthusiasm, without planning. They make a great start, and might get a few chapters into the novel or a few posts into a blog…but then they get stuck.

They wait – and wait – until the “perfect moment” to begin actually writing. They put off starting until they’ve got past family commitments and a busy spell at work…or they read about their chosen field of writing without getting any words down on paper.


Click here to read the full post on Write to Done.


How to Write a Novel: 7 Tips Everyone Can Use

This post by Jennifer McMahon originally appeared as a guest post on Writer’s Digest on 5/22/13.

1. Write the story you’d most want to read.

Don’t write a story just because you think it might be a bestseller or that it would make Great Aunt Edna proud. Think about the books you love, the ones you really lose yourself in. If those are mysteries, then don’t try to write an historical romance or a quiet literary novel. It might not be anything genre-specific that you love, but a certain voice, or type of story, or kinds of characters. Write what you love. Do me a favor — right now, today, start a list of all your crazy obsessions, the things that get your heart pumping, that wake you up in the middle of the night. Put it above your desk and use it to guide you, to jumpstart your writing each and every day.


2. Begin with character.

Make her flawed and believable. Let her live and breathe and give her the freedom to surprise you and take the story in unexpected directions. If she’s not surprising you, you can bet she’ll seem flat to your readers. One exercise I always do when I’m getting to know a character is ask her to tell me her secrets. Sit down with a pen and paper and start with, “I never told anybody…” and go from there, writing in the voice of your character.


Click here to read the full post on Writer’s Digest.


The Book That Wasn’t: 5 Fiction Writers Talk About their Novels in Drawers

This post by Chloe Benjamin originally appeared on The Millions on 7/28/14.

“For every book I publish,” a writing teacher once told me, “there’s one book I don’t.” At the age of eighteen, armed with a truly bad novel and a rather absurd sense of optimism, this line did not exactly resonate. But as I amassed rejection slips of every size—and once my first novel was rejected by a pantheon of New York publishers—I realized that nearly every writer has a novel in a drawer: a manuscript that, due to any number of reasons (rejection, timing, chance, diversion) never quite becomes a fully-formed book.

By the time an author’s debut hits bookstores, it’s very likely been preceded by a string of books that weren’t: doomed half-novels; slivers of inspiration that curled up and went to sleep; baggy short stories that grew into novellas, then stubbornly refused to grow any more. Some become first drafts, but never find the right agent; others find an agent, but not a publisher. In general, Novels in Drawers are an unruly breed, prone to shape-shifting and border-crossing. Some NIDs lie prone for years before being resurrected and, miraculously, finished; others have their characters or ideas recruited to breathe new life into a different manuscript.

What are we to do to with our books that weren’t? How can we learn from them, and when should we let them go? Below, five fiction writers on the story they still haven’t been able to tell.


Click here to read the full post on The Millions.


Writing: "How Do You Do It?"

This post by Chuck Wendig originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 6/10/14.

I go to conventions and conferences, that’s the question I get asked.


“How do you write?”

Or –

“How do I write?”

The question can mean all kinds of things. How does one write day to day? Or how does one become — and remain, and simply be — a writer? What’s it like? How to start? How to keep it going? WILL THERE BE BOURBON AND SHAME? (Yes to at least one of those.)

It’s sometimes accompanied by the look of a truck-struck possum.

It may come with an exhortation of bewilderment and exasperation.

A sound not unlike, whuhhh, or pffffffh. Cheeks puffed out. Lips working soundlessly.

This is a difficult question. It’s difficult because you’re you and I’m me. Each writer isn’t a snowflake until they are, and this is one of the ways that they are — we are cartographers of our own journeys, charting the map as we go and then burning it soon after. The way I did it isn’t the way that Joe Hill did it, or Kameron Hurley, or Delilah S. Dawson, or Kevin Hearne, or Heinlein or Dante or that one weird dude who wrote the Bible (his name was “The Prophet Scott” and he had one eye and a romantic eye for tired sheep).

Just the same, I feel like I should draw you a map.


Click here to read the full post on terribleminds.


Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting Out a Story

This post by Woelf Dietrich originally appeared on his Wo3lfMad site on 6/11/14.

I’m generally a pantser. My words tend to zigzag behind my thoughts as they try to keep up. When I reach a plot point or scene where I’m unsure of the direction I stop and take a short walk, or I go through my research again. Sometimes a walk is enough to dislodge what is stuck, or, if I’m lucky, I might end up with a new idea, and other times I have to wait a day or more. When I start a story I begin with an idea only, a premise that interests me, and build on that. Research for me usually happens early on in the writing process, after I already wrote a few chapters. Like starting a car and then letting it idle to warm the engine.

Having a detailed plot outline is new to me. I’ve never written a complete, full outline where I parse all my research and plot lines, well, not until I began on The Morrigan. I knew how I wanted the story to end and I knew another book would follow it, and because of Seals I had the mythos already down, but I wasn’t sure how the character arcs would meet. I had snap shots in my head of scenes I wanted to use.

It meant an outline had to be created to help me tell the story without leaving gaping potholes. Thus, I began constructing a series bible for The Guardians of the Seals. All my characters are described therein along with their backgrounds, a generous plot description with various options for future use, and a précis on how the research connects to the narrative.

During the actual writing process I would jot down ideas that came up or record significant developments that were new and unplanned. This way I kept the bible updated and ready for future books and it saved me time. Even now, when I do revision, I only have to check the bible if I forgot the name of a street or building, or Sebastian’s original family name.

Writers use many ways to help them sort the plot. The index-card method is one those ways and quite a few successful authors rely on this method. Which brings me to Michael Crichton.


Click here to read the full post on Wo3lfMad.