I am almost always reluctant to give writerly advice, not just because I don’t have the official creds but also because I have mixed feelings about other people’s advice for writing. It seems like a lot of times a writer will look at his or her personalized formula and decide that no one else can write any other way or else they’re cheating, ethically wrong, or bad writers.
With that said, I tried to choose from the more universal pieces of writerly wisdom I’ve collected over the years, but don’t feel like you need to follow them. They’re not laws, remember, just guidelines. I use absolute statements because they’re cleaner and less passive, but not all this advice may work for you.
(And take note: Just because it’s my advice doesn’t mean I always follow it, whether by accident or design. I’m only human.)
In no particular order:
1) Write what makes you uncomfortable, even if you have to cut it out later. Whether it’s uncomfortable because of the subject matter or the emotional strain, stretch your limits. Whatever you do, though, don’t cut it out just because it makes you uncomfortable. Only cut it because it doesn’t reveal something about the characters or it’s not essential to the plot.
2) In all things, listen to and trust your characters. They’ll lead you in the right direction. Also, stay true to the integrity of your story. I always seem to come back to this: Plot and Characters. There’s rarely anything more important than those two things.
3) There are a lot of people out there with opinions on whether you’re a good or bad person for writing what you do. You should listen to them when you’re not writing, because it’s important to be aware of the consequences of what you write, and sometimes change is good. But when you’re writing, ignore everything. Defer to #2.
4) Unless your name is Aesop or Perrault, don’t write a moral. It reads too much like a PSA. People have convictions, but remember that people often break their own convictions. Focus on the story, and themes will emerge on their own.
5) I like a good cliche now and then, but ever since I tried avoiding them, my brain started taking crazy pathways and making less typical metaphoric associations. The occasional cliche is okay, but try avoiding them, and your head will get used to finding new, creative paths instead of walking down familiar Main Street all the time.
6) Write whatever genre you want. Someone’s going to think it’s crap and others are going to think it’s brilliant. Your genre is not a reflection of your worth.
7) It is literally impossible to please everybody. Please yourself first. Please your fans next. By that, I don’t mean bowing to fan service, but your fans will be enthusiastic about what you write because what you’ve written has found them at the right time and in the right state of mind. And that’s what art is meant to do: touch people in a non-creepy way.
8) Critical acclaim is nice, and you should pay attention to critiques of quality and content because there’s room for improvement. However, take it with a grain of salt. It’s possible that the story wasn’t for them in the first place.
9) Appreciate the time you have when you’re working only for yourself. Build up your finished story trunk before jumping straight into pitching. There’s a lot of freedom in adhering to your own deadlines and discipline instead of someone else’s. I know it’s easy to be impatient for publication, but take your time and enjoy the freedom of writing only for you. This also makes you more comfortable taking risks. In addition, you have more time to spit-polish your trunk stories as you gain more distance from them.
10) Write through the pain. I don’t know whether you have the same attacks of nerves that I get, but I often go through sometimes paralyzing phases of worrying that my stuff is crap or that I’m going to get nasty letters about certain aspects of the content. I fear being called a bad [writer, person, insert label here]. It’s not fun, and it’s not pretty.
My way of coping is by coming up with answers to many of the comments and questions I imagine from this invisible peanut gallery that’s taken up residence in my head. It’s stressful and tiring and emotionally draining. And when I think I’m a terrible writer … well, it’s hard to keep writing when you think everything you’re doing is pointless.
Do it anyway. It may feel like you’re typing in a loud, crowded pub, but do it anyway. Write through the pain.