Anonymous asked: One piece of advice I hear given is to read books to learn how to write. How do I do that?
Hmmm. Yes. We seem to do that a lot. We should really explain ourselves.
If you were a musician, you would listen to different kinds of music to get different ideas, draw influence, and get a firmer understanding of your craft. It’s the same thing with writing.
There are two general rules to this, then some more specific ones. Let’s go general first:
Keep those tips in mind when you’re reading this article, and of course when you’re reading in general. This is the more specific stuff we were talking about earlier.
All told, reading as a writer is a matter of absorption. The more you read, the more you will understand about writing, both consciously and unconsciously. Continuing to write will obviously make your writing better, but continuing to read is your first line of improvement.
Thanks for your question! If you want to get in touch with us, feel free to use our ask box!
Anonymous asked: How does one know they are a writer? See, for me, I write. But is that enough? I know writers who say that if they don’t write they will go insane. They NEED to write for their mental health and well being. See, I don’t feel that way. I can live my life without writing. I have done so for a while. Does that mean I’m not a writer?
(another, presumably different) Anonymous asked: if I’m crying while writing something, does that mean I’m doing it right?
These two questions are getting one article because they pose the same problem, just worded differently. People like to be good at things, which is understandable. For this reason, loads of people try to find measuring sticks to which they can compare themselves. This article endeavors to address those measuring sticks.
Here at WriteWorld, we like to start articles with definitions, and since this question is about a definition, this seems like a pretty great place to start.
Writer (n): One who writes.
If you are a person who writes, you are a writer. That’s it.
For example, if you’re crying while you’re writing, your story could be still very bad. That’s not to say that it is, but how much emotion you feel while writing does not indicate how well you write or whether or not you are “allowed” to call yourself a writer.
But for the sake of the question, let’s take a look at some of the less correct definitions of writers and talk about them.
The moral of the story is that worrying about definitions like these is counterproductive. If you write, you are a writer. If you want to be a writer, but for some reason you’re not, then, in the words of Richard Rhodes, “apply ass to chair.”
Asking questions like this one will only be frustrating. They turn writing into this question of adequacy, when writing is whatever you want to make of it. Constantly wondering if you are a writer or how good your writing is takes time away from doing the one thing that makes you a writer, which is writing.
If you don’t feel a compulsive need to write, does this mean you are not a writer? Absolutely not. Is writing something you do? Yes? Then you’re a writer. Find a story you care about and write it down.
Thanks for your questions. If you have any questions about writing, hit up our ask box!
Christopher Hitchens: Advice for Writers
1) Ask yourself if you can’t live without writing.
2) Find your voice - if you can speak well, you can write well.
3) Avoid the booze trap - when to drink, how much, and how not to mix.
Of course, he sums it up much more eloquently in that British accent. RIP, Hitch!
As readers of a site that welcomes and encourages submissions, there’s a decent chance some of you want to be writers. Several months ago, I wrote an advice column on how to go aboutfreelancing for the Internet and magazines, but some readers have their sights set on short fiction or even novels. And right now, some are contemplating education choices like picking a major or attending graduate school to get that MFA.
Let me be clear: Education is wonderful. There is nothing you will ever learn that you will not ultimately use. Conceptually, I am fully in support of a liberal arts education, even when there is no obvious and immediate application of that knowledge to daily life. However, with rising costs in an appalling economy, racking up that debt seems harder to justify, and I find myself agreeing more and more with a column Robert Brockway wrote years ago questioning the need for college. I’m not going quite that far yet, but I have soured on graduate programs — particularly MFAs. (Brock’s still wrong about Nirvana’s cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” being superior, by the way.)
It’s a very personal choice, but consider this: Every important thing I’ve learned about writing I learned from a writer. Yes, one of those writers was a college professor (not grad school), but for the most part, I got all my best storytelling lessons from interviews I saw on TV or read in books. That makes sense, right? Who better to explain writing than writers? And yes, of course many MFA programs employ distinguished writers who can impart these lessons to you directly, and that’s great if you can afford it, but the knowledge is out there. Writers are showoffs who like to talk and give advice, and they like talking about writing most of all. Every one of these tips below can be learned for free, and I promise you, I could never have written my forthcoming novel, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, without them.
Hi. Many opinions lie below.
There is a certain brand of question that irks me the most when I see it in our ask box. It’s not when people tell us that we don’t cite our image blocks (although those are frustrating, as we do cite our Image Blocks), it isn’t questions that can easily be solved by a search engine or our toolbox, and it isn’t questions that just require common sense to answer.
It’s questions that ask us to someone’s creative work for them. And not in a “can you guys do my homework for me” way, but in a “can you guys make large decisions regarding my story for me” way.
We have a couple of questions sitting in the ask box that go something like this: “I have this idea for a story. But I’m not sure if I should do the story one way or another way. Help!”
The problem with these questions is that this is your job. An idea for a story is not a story. A story is a story. The thing that we call “writing” is deciding how to execute (and then executing) the idea for the story.
To use an example (not from our inbox), if you want to write a story protesting war but don’t know how to do it, you don’t have a story. Are you looking to protest war by satirizing it like in Catch-22? Or are you trying to play it straight and show it as horrifying like in All Quiet on the Western Front? Those are two totally different things and require two different sets of skills. The two novels are nothing alike, even though they’re about the same thing.
Nobody says “Wow, you should read this book because it’s about class.” They say “this book is great because of what it does with class.” Or how it handles it, presents it, humanizes it. That’s what writing fiction (at least from one perspective) is: taking abstract ideas and making them into stories.
So when I see one of these questions, I’m at a total loss. I don’t want to do this person’s creative work. If I wanted to do that, I’d be the one writing the story.
A work of fiction is a series of choices. You choose which characters to introduce into which world under which circumstances. You choose what they say, think, and do. Everything is under your control. Do not surrender control of your story to anyone else.
If you are willing to surrender this control, figure out why that is. Maybe you haven’t thought about your story hard enough, maybe you don’t fully understand the elements of your story or you haven’t done enough research on the topic, etc. There is a reason why you are not owning the story you yourself are inventing. Figure out why.
This whole thing of course begs the question of why writing blogs exist, or more specifically, why I help operate a writing blog if I think this way.
The answer is pretty simple: I believe that writing fiction is hard. I am not very good at it. I need a lot of help. There are techniques to fiction, and I believe that a blog can help people understand them.
If you’re brand new to writing and have no idea what’s going on, you’re going to lose a lot of time trying and failing to figure things out that have already been established as good ideas. Writing blogs like this one (and the ones we follow) can help expose new writers to these ideas. They are ways for us to share ideas for how to approach the craft.
Basically, we can help you learn to make decisions, but we will never make decisions for you. We can demonstrate effective use of detail, but won’t tell you which detail to use.
Maimonides was a twelfth-century Spanish/Jewish philosopher. He had this idea that not all service is created equal. There are many kinds of assistance: giving help begrudgingly, giving help willingly but not giving enough, giving anonymously, etc., but the top of the ladder is helping someone become self-reliant so that they no longer need assistance.
That’s what we’re trying to do here. Everyone will always need some help (again, writing is hard), but that’s the sort of idea we’re looking for. We’re trying to spread ideas about plot and setting, characters and themes. This is so that you can digest these ideas and (if you like them, which you may not) and apply them to whatever piece you’re working on or will one day work on. We aren’t interested in helping you create one great piece of fiction that’s a weird amalgamation of our ideas and yours. We want to help you become great fiction writers.
Thank you for reading our blog.
The entire writing process is fraught with perils. Many writers would argue that the hardest part of writing is beginning.
When asked what was the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “A blank sheet of paper.”
Other writers believe that ideas are easy, it’s in the execution of those ideas that the hard work really begins. You have to show up every day and slowly give shape to your ideas, trying to find just the right words, searching for the right turn of phrase, until it all morphs into something real.
Then comes the wait to discover how your writing will be received. Chilean author Isabel Allende once said that writing a book is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You never know if it will reach any shores.
So just how do you go about facing an empty page, coaxing your ideas into the world of form, and steering the end result toward shore? You can start by studying the tips and advice from writers presented below.
Basically, here’s a guide:
1. Make sure your story is completed and well-edited before you even consider what to do with it.
Regardless of whether you plan to submit it to an agent for publication or to self-publish (vanity publish… which I don’t really recommend, because most of the industry frowns on the practise, seeing it as circumventing them/putting them out of a job & it’s very rare for a self-published author to make it big as a result — EL James was a fluke), it needs to be a clean, well-written copy. Typos, grammar issues, etc. will make you appear amateurish, and no one will be interested in reading your story.
In order to assure your story is solid, most aspiring authors join crit groups (i.e. groups of people who you trust who are well-read and literate, who share their stories with each other and offer advise on how to improve the writing). *Note: Make sure everyone in the group has agreed to non-disclosure and copyrights, or else you could risk your story being stolen and published by someone else (I have seen this happen).
2. Once your story is done, you need to multitask. Part of your time should be spent on creating a smart business plan (because as an author, you are a self-employed business, and as such, you have to understand how royalties work, how to read contracts & understand what rights your signing away, how to negotiate a good deal to keep rights to your work, how to report such earnings to the government, and how to run a business out of your home). The other part of you needs to split your remaining time between writing query letters to agents (if you plan to go that route)/prepping your story for self-publishing issues (if you plant to go that route - i.e. obtaining an ISBN, buying cover art, learning what online resources offer the best return on e-book sales vs. exposure to a larger audience, distribution methods, etc.) and move on to your next story immediately (because most publishing houses want you to have at least 1 in the hopper with 1 complete before they consider you).
Never go idle as a writer. Just because you’ve finished a story doesn’t mean it will sell. Always be prepared for it to flop or never get published, and write other stories to console yourself with the failures. They happen. Not everyone is going to like your ideas or how they are presented. Accept it, take it on the chin, and march on. Come up with new ideas all the time.
3. If you intend to get an agent, you have to send query letters to available agents in the genre you tend to write (i.e. romance, young adult, etc.). There are sites online that will allow you to know what agents are currently accepting new authors, and the genres they are accepting for publishing purposes (some agents are experts at certain fields, and some include lists of genres they WON’T publish this year, i.e. vampires, werewolves, etc.). Agents read these introductory letters, which includes a brief background about you and usually a catchy synopsis of your story. If they’re interested in reading more, they contact you. If the agent likes the work you send them, they will consider signing you and offer you a contract (the terms of which are negotiable).
Remember: the agent you pick is a doorway into publishing - they hook you up with an editor, who hooks you up with a publishing house (in a nutshell). The industry has changed a lot because of vanity publishing, but this is still the basic gist. PICK YOUR AGENT WISELY (be discerning). Don’t just jump at the first offer, and don’t pick an agent because they take you to dinner or are super nice to you. Look at who else uses them, who they represent, and how many contacts they have with the industry. Make sure what they can offer you is compatible to where you want to go as a writer (if you’re looking for a movie deal, find an agent with solid contacts in Hollywood, etc.). As a writer, whoever you choose to represent you will open some doors for you and close others (depending on who they’ve angered or annoyed in the industry previously). It’s all very political and unfortunately, blacklisting does exist, so you need to consider your choice of agent (and how to turn down other agents) VERY carefully.
*NOTE: I would also NEVER tell an agent you were/are in any way involved in fanfiction or fanart, no matter how excited you are about it. It’s considered a taboo subject by many of them because of the copyright issues. Bad idea. Trust me on this.
*Note: There are websites online dedicated to helping you know how to write a good query letter. I highly suggest you read as many as you can before you try to write one of these.
4. Once you have an agent, your business relationship with them will commence. There is an expectation of putting out at least 1 publishable work a year (some agents demand more). You have to gauge your audience, build up a fan base for demand, and assure you are hip on marketing techniques (as some pub houses have terrible cover artists). Early in my career, I didn’t understand such fine nuances, and some of my stories were pub’d with terrible cover art that I’m embarrassed to look at now, and which definitely affected sales (which affects how many copies a pub house prints or how much of a marketing budget they apply to you, which corresponds directly to how much money you make and whether or not you appear on a Best Sellers list… and whether they think you’re a name worth continuing to publish).
5. Attend writers conventions and join an association of writers in your genre in your area (i.e. The British Fantasy Society, Romance Writers of America, etc.). You need to network, because you need to have published authors willing to write a blurb for your book to help it make more sales (a blurb is something like, “BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR. Couldn’t put it down!” - Stephen King, or “A witty ride through Victorian England featuring steampunk zombies. The most imaginative plot I’ve ever come across!” - The British Fantasy Society, etc. - appears inside or on a cover, usually). Conventions also offer you a chance to do signings for fans, which is a great way to get the word out that you exist and recs from fans on sites like Tumblr (which can improve your image and sell books).
*pant pant pant*
I think I covered the basics. I hope this help you. Good luck with your writing, dahling!!!
It’s important to know that no matter how obvious and sensible a piece of writing advice might be, there are always going to be circumstances when it won’t hold true. Or when there are other, equally effective ways to tell the story.
It’s all open to debate and depends on context and specific examples. An unmitigated disaster for one writer, may be an unqualified success in the hands of another.
It would be a lot simpler if there were solid, unquestionable, carved in stone rules that we could all learn and then go from there. So here are three universally true things that apply to all writers at all times in every situation(I am 1,000,000% not exaggerating for effect).
‘What the fuck’ is probably the first thing you think when you read the title. Hang on a moment! There’s a lot of writing advice out there, much of it collected in books (which are great! There’s a lot I like!) or totally free on the internet. That, frankly, is awesome! Writing advice is why you guys follow my tumblr, and others too. That is also awesome.
My sister used to yell at me for reading writing advice books and not writing. And she had me pegged, for one; I read the books and didn’t write because I didn’t have confidence in my writing. If only there was some advice out there, something that would truly get to me! I spent a lot of time looking for it when I could have been spending that time writing. I could justify it by saying I wasn’t ready to write, but that’s a really shitty excuse
Also, there’s a lot of writing problems out there, and therefore a lot of advice specifically for those problems. You can spend time (and enjoy spending time) reading advice about all of those problems, some of which you have, a lot of which you don’t, and some you don’t have to worry about just yet.
You’re on your first draft - maybe you should ignore stuff about editing. Your problem is plot, not characters, so why read character writing advice? Sure, it’s fun, and there’s nothing wrong with reading it. But is it really helping you right now?
What I really mean is this: Writing is hard! Reading writing advice? Awesome. Reading writing advice about things you’re not focusing on at the moment? Hey, it’s advice, it’s all good! Reading writing advice while not writing? Still okay! But all of that advice out there, as helpful and great as it can be, isn’t going to make your writing better. Sitting down and writing is what’s going to make your writing better. Even if you hate it! Even if you think it’s shit (though it’s not)! Don’t talk yourself out of sitting down and writing.
Reading about writing doesn’t count. Talking about writing doesn’t count. Thinking about writing doesn’t count. You’re a writer! It doesn’t matter if you never show it to anyone, or immediately burn it to ashes after you’re done (although please don’t do that, your work is valuable!). Writers write, even when it’s hard. Don’t talk yourself out of writing, like I did. Just write!
Oh my GOD. This is so important. “My brain hates me,” is literally one of my refrains, and I have EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM in this article, depression-related and not. Read it, for the love (or hatred) of grapefruit juice. Read. It.
(via YA Highway)