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Old 11-19-2013, 01:23 AM   #1
Waflicka
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Twofold Conversation: [the best writing advice] & [defining writers]

I recently attended an author signing / meet and greet with George R.R. Martin, who is currently touring Australia. During the meet and greet interview, he imparted ticket-holders with several excellent pieces of writing advice. The first of these gems was to relay Robert A. Heinlein's rules of science fiction writing:

  1. You must write.
  2. Finish what you start.
  3. Refrain from rewriting.


He then went on to offer his own advice. I did not film or otherwise record the meet and greet (though I did get a few photographs of myself during the signing!), so I am recounting what he said from memory. I felt that this was possibly the most pertinent and -- surprisingly -- personally motivating piece of writing advice that I've received. (Much more stimulating than the typical 'Oh, Waflicka, you can't be that bad -- you just need confidence!') Here, heavily paraphrased due to the nature of human memory, is what he said:

Don't write to sell your work. Writing is a career for those who don't want stability; if you are a writer, you will sometimes be worried that you can't make your mortgage payments. [...] When you begin to write, first tell yourself that you will not be published. Nobody will ever want to read what you've written. You won't make any money. If you still need to write -- if the words still need to come out of you -- if you need to tell the story regardless, then you are a writer.

I found this incredibly inspiring, and thought it was brilliant writing advice. As somebody who is studying to teach English as a second language, I often pick up on my own grammatical or syntactical errors and then persuade myself that I couldn't possibly write well, editors be damned! Nonetheless, I still want to tell my stories, to get them out; by GRRM's definition, I am a writer. By my own definition? Not so much.

Therein resides a problem, though; the standard that I apply to myself does not equate with the standard I apply to others. In my heart, I view a writer as a person who puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, no matter what they produce; if they love writing, or even if they're paid to write but do so without love, I see that person as a writer. However, when I attempt to apply that standard to myself, I scoff -- there are exceptions to the rules, and I see myself as one such! This thread isn't about me, though -- I just don't want to ask questions of you without also providing my own opinions and ideas! Free exchange of thought and whatnot.

My first thread here will therefore successfully encompass, I hope, two aspects of discussion (of course, if this isn't something that's of interest to this community, then please let it sink quietly into oblivion!):

  • What is the single best piece of writing advice that you've received? Did it push you to begin writing, or did you receive it while you were already writing? Did it come early in your passion, or later on? Who gave you this advice, under what circumstances, and how was it received (enthusiastically, dismissively, etc.)? Do you view it differently as time has gone on?
  • How do you, fellow denizens of the Internet, define a 'writer'? Must they have been published, and if so, how? Traditionally, independently, in a university anthology, etc.? Is a writer somebody who simply has a passion for the art? Do you view fiction writers and, say, journalists or editors in the same light? Indeed, do you regard careers such as journalism and editing as writing careers? What about script-writers or comic book writers? Where do you define writing, and where does your personal grey area come into play?


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Old 11-19-2013, 07:43 AM   #2
kennyc
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Welcome.

There are many kinds of writers. (just as there are many kinds of artists, musicians, etc.) Writers write. Some publish, some are paid for writing directly (copywriters, journalists etc), some are paid by publishers (indirectly by the readers), some are paid by the reader. Some post their writing for free on blogs or power poles or in college hallways.

I can't think of a SINGLE best piece of advice, you've listed several above. I will say that the thing that inspires me is reading excellent work and hoping to emulate it in some small way.
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Old 11-19-2013, 09:27 PM   #3
VydorScope
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennyc View Post
Writers write.

This. Stop stressing, stop delaying, stop worrying, stop what ever it is that makes you do anything other then write and write. If you enjoy it,then write. If you don't... go find something else to do. That is pretty much true of any job, or hobby.

Making money doing it is just a fun little (or maybe big) perk.
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Old 11-20-2013, 07:52 AM   #4
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I started writing without looking for advice. But when I did start looking around, what I found early on was a collection of "10 most important rules" (or something equivalent) from a dozen or more writers. I found them educational as a collection. It confirmed that every writer is different, and there is perhaps only one absolute rule: write.

It was Neil Gaiman's phrasing that hit home best with me - they're all over the place now, you can find them via Google as his "8 rules" (I remember he didn't complete the request for 10 in the original articles I read). His first rule is simple: Write. His second reiterates that in longer form. This third agrees with Heinlein's second (finish it), but I'll have more to say on this in a moment. It's his fifth which I found most interesting, and seems to bear out as true more often that otherwise:
Quote:
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
I don't agree that "Refrain from rewriting" should be stated so boldly. It also overlaps with the "finish it" rule, for example, Neil Gaiman's rule six is:
Quote:
Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
This is not a contradiction to the "finish it" and "refrain from rewriting" rules, but it is a clarification/elaboration. You need to be careful of overworking things - or you lose the feeling of life in the story - but sometimes you have the right idea executed badly. Sometimes rewriting is exactly what something needs. There may be people that get it right first time every time, I don't believe they are in the majority.

On the "finish it" rule I have further reservations. At the very least the "finish" definition needs to include "I'm finished with it" - as opposed to the story is finished. If you can see the thing is going nowhere, and you can't find another direction to take it, and you have other things you could be working on, then cut your losses and consider yourself finished with it - at least, that's my take on it. I think the "finish it" recommendation is important to the extent that there are things you learn by finishing something that you would miss if you keep giving up. So, like most of the "rules" about writing, it's not a hard and fast thing. You mustn't let yourself get sidetracked by every new shiny idea that drifts into your head and so never get anything finished, but nor should you waste months on something that is offering nothing in return.

So I guess the best writing advice I've read is that one rule they all have in common: write. The rule is profound in ways you will not understand until you actually do it.

Defining writers I might leave for another post, and maybe another night. refrain from rewriting
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Old 11-20-2013, 08:23 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Waflicka View Post
[*] You must write.[*] Finish what you start.[*] Refrain from rewriting.
Iain Banks first published book was the first book he rewrote, so I don't agree with that. Heinlein's stuff was either simple or rambling, so I can see that worked for him. I think it fair to say that Martin rambles too.

Banks also said that everyone has 1000000 bad words in them. So it makes sense to write lots. I guess finishing things means more words.

Last edited by Rizla; 11-20-2013 at 08:27 AM.
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Old 11-20-2013, 01:02 PM   #6
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I have to agree that the best definition of a writer is someone who writes. That's so obvious that it's in danger of being trite. Still true, though.

As for advice - I never got any. I've come across it, of course, although I've never looked for it. I think writers should eschew advice, unless they're so uncertain that they need it. Still, I can recall one thing that I heard, even though I can't remember where I heard it: "There's nothing wrong with making your reader pick up a dictionary."

rjb
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Old 11-20-2013, 06:24 PM   #7
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To my way of thinking --
To be a writer just means they wrote something. A professional writer means they were paid for something they wrote. Neither of those is a solid indicator of the quality of what they wrote.

I imagine statistics support that words-for-pay are written to a higher average standard but my anecdotal evidence suggests pay just isn't a strong enough separator. Maybe I'm just too much a curmudgeon when I think most writing is crap.

I do agree with what Rizla mentioned. Everyone has a number of "bad words in them." That is just another way of saying writing is a craft and we expect craftsmanship to improve with experience.
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