The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need

Nov 29, 2011

One of the best things about online social networking with other Writers is that we all get to see a glimpse into each other’s working style.  I always love it when a tweet or update shows up with a title like “5 Things You Must Do To Be A Good Writer” or “Do This If You Want To Sell Books”.  It’s fascinating to me to see what other Writers value most.

The thing is, there are a thousand different techniques for writing.  Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”?  Do you write for your audience or do you write for yourself?  Do you write linearly or do you write a bunch of scenes and then string them together into a narrative later?  Do you pick a topic that interests you and switch it up as your interests change or do you carve out one particular niche for yourself and stick to it?  There are as many different opinions about what you should do and how you should do it as there are Writers out there.

My writing style has changed over the years.  I used to be 100% pantser.  Characters would come to me and I would find a situation for them and then I would write and see where the story took me.  It’s a lot of fun to write this way because you never know what you’re going to come up with.  Of course, what I came up with more often than not was a lot of nonsense.  As my writing has matured I’ve found that I still come up with characters in a situation first but that it takes a little thinking and considering and, yes, you guessed it, plotting to create a clean story for them.  But I always start at the beginning and write through in a linear fashion until I get to the end.  Sometimes by doing that the plot changes.

Ah, if only I looked this glamorous when I write!

I also tend to write for myself first and foremost.  But wait, what does that mean exactly?  I have an idea that this is a bit of a controversial topic.  I’ve seen entire long posts and articles that suggest you should write what your audience wants to read no matter what and that Writers who write for themselves won’t sell books.  Hmm.  The way I see it, I am a reader, therefore I am writing what the reader wants to read.  If I love it then that love will shine through and other readers will feel that and love it too.  But where I think I differ from some other Writers out there is that I am not really in this to sell books.  Well, let me clarify that.  I’m not in it to make money.  I’m a Writer because I have to be and I want people to read my stories because I want to share what I love with as many people as possible.  But I don’t think this will ever be my career.  I just want to break even and cover my expenses.

So where does this leave us with the writing advice?  How should we be writing?  What words of wisdom should Writers be living by?

Many years ago when I was in college I took a creative writing class.  Part of our homework was to read each other’s short stories and then come to class ready to critique them.  This was when I lived in Florida with my Dad, his wife, and my oldest half-brother.  We used to read these stories aloud.  And I have to admit that we did a lot of laughing at them as we read.  There was one story in particular that had us all in tears and no one could continue to read aloud it was so bad.  That was when my Dad, who is also a Writer, shook his head and told me something I have never forgotten.  You can’t teach someone to write.  Sure, you can teach them to construct a sentence, a paragraph, and maybe even a whole story, but you can’t ever teach someone to be a Writer.  To be a Writer is inborn.  It’s in your blood and sinew.  It’s not a skill that can be learned by practicing one particular technique or style.

So.  What’s the only writing advice you’ll ever need?

Listen to what other Writers have to say.  Learn a variety of different techniques and try them out.  But then you have to do whatever works best for you.

Writing is not a one size fits all prospect.  Some people excel at writing within a rigid framework.  Some enjoy tailoring their work to fit what they see as a demand in the market.  Some people write fancifully.  Some write one thing one day and then something else entirely the next day.  Does one of these ways work better than the others?  There are Writers out there who will try to argue that yes, one way is better than another.  Personally, I think they’re wrong.  I don’t think there is one set of rules or advice that must be followed in all cases by all people to equal writing success.  But their way might work for you.  It might not.  What bothers me is when any given Writer insists that their way is the ONLY way that leads to success (and that their definition of success is the only correct one).

Success as a Writer is so difficult to define and half the time luck plays as big a part in it as skill.  So my advice to you is don’t stress out about it.  Write to be happy and the happiness will follow.

Comments (8)

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  1. Susan Kiernan-Lewis

    Words of wisdom! My husband is constantly saying things like: “if the money is in YA zombie romance, why not just do that?” LOL! I write stories for myself first. That makes it more of a zen and less of a business which, as I explain to him, is why the magic happens. LOVE your blog posts, Merry! They really help jump start my writerly day–even if, in actuality, writing is just a small part of it.

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      Aw, thanks Susan! *blushes* Well, I love writing this blog so I guess that shows too. At least I hope so. I also have a bunch of what I’ve always thought are truly strange story ideas, but nowadays I’m thinking that if I like them maybe someone else would too.

      Reply
  2. kentishkate

    A long time ago, someone wrote a book called something like Do What You Love and the Rest Will Follow. That is the key, if you love it, then that’s the thing you should do!

    Reply
  3. Dorothy Stacy

    Merry, I am in agreement with so many of the things you said in your blog. I also write what I like and know just my own excitement over the story will come through to others whereas if I wrote something I didn’t feel great about just to please others, it would show in the writing and not be that interesting to others.
    Also, I am mainly not in the business of making a big pile of money on my books. As you, I want my books to get out there to the public to entertain and educate people to the joy of history in a fun way. As long as I break even and maybe make a little money ahead, I’m happy. I love visiting schools and Author Visits, too.

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      School visits sound like so much fun! I had a young friend who was all set to recommend me to her school for a visit. But I write Historical Romance with some pretty graphic scenes and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend minors read my books. Although I personally made it through high school on a steady diet of spicy romance novels. 😉

      Reply
  4. Kevin J. Parham

    No truer words were ever spoken. Like many things, what an author (or audience) perceives to be ‘quality’ in writing or conveying a story is usually subjective. And what appeals to one person might very well be repulsive to another. IMO, one should simply write from the heart, and when you do that, the rest will fall into place.

    Of course, one’s motive for writing will dictate the subject matter, style, or rules to be followed to achieve that objective. I prefer to just let it flow; I don’t concern myself about critiques or who might or might not like it. I believe that it is inevitable that some will like it, and some won’t…so what? If what I have to say through my writing contributes something of value to another, then to me, it is a success.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    Best,
    Kevin

    Reply
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