The best writing advice I’ve ever had 6


I’ve been writing almost as soon as I learned how to print. When I finally got serious about my writing, and decided to see if I could actually be published an editor I met at a local writers’ group encouraged me to join the Toronto Romance Writers. She even forwarded an email about a Romance 101 class they were holding the following month.

From the moment I walked into the room, I was impressed with the upbeat energy in the room. It only got better when the organizers introduced the speaker, multi-published author Margaret Moore.   One of the first things Margaret said was that whenever an author stands in front of a group and says “I’m going to teach you how to [fill in the blank]” what they’re saying is “I’m going to teach you what works for me.”  She then went on to say that it is quite possible it may not work for you, that you should listen to whatever an author says and take the parts that work for you, and feel free to discard the parts that don’t. (I’m paraphrasing here because it’s been several years since she gave that speech, but I think I’m fairly close.)

I cannot begin to tell you how much that impressed me.

As a direct result of Margaret’s talk and the group’s positive outlook, I joined the TRW that month. I also discovered a plethora of writing courses available to RWA members. In the next eight months or so I took about a dozen craft-of-writing courses. (Yes, I tend to jump in with both feet and overdo things.) Unfortunately I quickly forgot Ms. Moore’s sage advice and ended up so confused that I barely wrote anything for months. I’d type a sentence and then think “Oh, no but AAA said…” and delete the sentence and rewrite it. Then I’d look at it and think “Oh, but BBB said…” and delete the sentence and rewrite it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. It wasn’t until about seven months in that I remembered Margaret’s advice and set off on my own path again, using the bits that worked for me and tossing the rest.

It’s tough to judge just what will work for you and what won’t because some advice is really hard to hear but you need to follow it, while some just leads you down the garden path making the trek harder instead of easier. When an author talks about her writing process and how she schedules her day, she may not have infants that have to be cared for right then and not when she schedules it. She may not be part of the sandwich generation where you not only have to care for your kids but your invalid parents as well. Or maybe she doesn’t have a chronic illness that can leave you floundering to remember simple words every few months.  Or maybe she is, maybe she’s one of those superwomen who can do it all.  Or, and this is the tough part to accept, maybe you’re just slacking off or doing things the hard way and her advice would help you write cleaner/faster/whatever.  That’s when you have to sit down and have a good think and either … well,  take a certain action or get off the pot. You know what I mean…

But what it comes down to is, at some point, you have to rely upon your little voice inside your head or your gut or whatever you want to call it, to weed out what is right for your story or your method of writing and what isn’t, what works for your life and what doesn’t.  You have to find your own path, your own method, your own voice and forge ahead.

It’s a process I’m still learning. Some days I feel like I’m slogging up the side of the hill, machete in hand, free climbing up sheer rock faces, while there’s a gondola I could have taken somewhere back at the beginning of my journey that would allow me to glide above the trees to the top of the mountains. (I can hear all my author friends snorting and say “yeah, there’s a fantasy!”) Every once in a while, I have to make a decision about which path to take. And yeah, sometimes I take the rockier path instead of the smoother one. Because when it comes down to it, that other way? While it works superbly for others, it just won’t work for me.

So if you’re beginning the trek to publication, remember: everybody has a different way to write, a different path to take before they can type “The End” on their manuscript. Just because Author A, B, or C, works one way with great success, it doesn’t mean their way will work for you. And here’s the weird part, sometimes that great piece of advice that worked for you several years ago, may not work for you anymore and you have to find a different way.

It can be really tough deciding what’s working and realizing when it’s not. It’s tough to let go of things that once worked but now are making you spin your wheels. We have a tendency to hold onto our old habits. But it’s perfectly okay to admit that to yourself that you’ve changed. Ultimately you have to realize that you’re not Author A, B, or C, you’re you, and your path will be right for you at that point in time.

But no matter where you are on that path up the mountain, whether on the cliff face or riding the gondola, remember that you should stop every once in a while, take a deep breath, look back to see how far you’ve climbed and admire the view…


6 thoughts on “The best writing advice I’ve ever had

  • Anara Bella

    Taking what works for you and discarding what doesn’t is the best advice I ever heard as well.

    And I’m just like you. I’m still figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. It seems to change with each book I write and is probably a large part of what makes writing so interesting.

    Great post, Leah! =)

    Anara
    http://www.anarabella.com

  • Estelle Vane

    You’re so right. I’m at the point where I’m still reading writing advice — while slogging through my WIP — and it’s shaking my confidence.
    I’ll go back and read something and think, “wait, I shouldn’t write it this way because such and such said…” The problem is, I’ll think that even if I like the way the passage sounds.

    Still trying to find my writing zen.

  • Vivian Arend

    That fact the journey changes along the way, both in our writing styles and our lives, adds to the whole adventure though, doesn’t it?

    Great post, and great points. Sending lots of love, and diving back into my own changing situation with a deep breath…

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