Friday, December 6, 2013

Bad Writing Advice

By Susan

     We're here at our retreat--ice- and snow-bound in Granbury, Texas.
     Each one of us is currently sequestered to our own cozy writing space. Thankfully, we haven't lost power. I'm sitting Indian-style on a queen-sized bed, looking out over the snow-covered lawn. I'm warm and content, with my laptop in front of me. I hope you all are safe and warm wherever you are, too!
     Each of us are churning out words today, working toward personal goals we set well before today. At last year's retreat, I think I added about 6000 new words to my manuscript. This year, I'm not so sure if I'll be that productive: we'll see. Yet comparing last year's productivity to this year's progress makes me a little hard on myself. I'm beating myself up before I've entered the ring. And it reminds me of lots of bad writing advice and habits that we writers seem to employ when attempting to goad ourselves into putting words and scenes on paper.

     Here are some examples:
1) Write 2000 words a day.
     We all know this one. Since Stephen King penned On Writing, every writer knows that Mr. King writes 2000 words a day, every day. He preaches it wherever he goes. The problem with this standard is that most writers I know do NOT write 2000 words a day. And when they decide that they must write 2000 words a day because Stephen King says so, they end up either a) feeling terrible for their massive failure, or b) not writing at all because they can never be Stephen King.

2) Write every day. 
     This is not bad advice in itself, and I actually do write most days, although it's not always fiction, and it's not always toward my manuscript. I journal. I write letters to friends and family. I occasionally produce a poem or short story. Yet do weekends pass without a word on paper? Do I give myself a break when I need to think through a plot point or a sticky character development quirk that arises? Most definitely. I would suggest instead writers should think every day, write as much as possible, and not be too hard on themselves if they take a day (or a week) away from the page.

3) Edit as you go.
     Yes. We all edit as we go. But that doesn't mean that your first draft is complete when you get to the final page. Editing as you go does not replace revision, rewriting, scene elimination, continuous new words, plot changes, and POV fixes. Fixing typos is not the same thing as editing a manuscript. Don't fall into the thinking that keeping your manuscript clean of errors as you end each chapter means your manuscript is a book when you type the words "The End."

Instead, let's focus on some good writing advice:
1) Read as much as you possibly can and do so without guilt. 
2) Write whenever you can, whenever you feel like it. (Unless, of course, that means "never." Writers most certainly write.)
3) Understand and love your first draft. And your second. And your fifth. Make every draft the best possible work you can complete at that time. 
4) Write what you love. 

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