Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing Advice

I’ve shied away from writing posts on how to write even though I am aware that a sizable section of my audience is likely aspiring writers and might appreciate some insight or at least validation. The reason I’ve avoided such topics is that I don’t know how to write. Let me clarify—I’ve never “learned” how to write in any structured sense.

I never had any formal education beyond the one Creative Writing class in my sophomore year of high school, where I and two of my friends terrorized our teacher by turning Mother Goose rhymes into gritty urban satires. This sort of cutting edge inventiveness might succeed in later life, but doesn’t play well in suburban classrooms. In that same class I did achieve my first serious notoriety. The assignment was to write a short story (two pages) about a photograph of a flower. I penned a story about a boy sent topside from the bunker where the last of humanity was trying to survive a nuclear holocaust. His job was to search for signs of life, but the boy was of a generation born in the bunker. When he stumbled on the flower he plucked and discarded it thinking: how could anything so fragile hope to survive in such a world as theirs. The teacher read the story in front of the class, and when the teacher revealed that I wrote it, the best writer in our class--a girl by the name of Megan--was unable to control herself and said in utter shock, “A boy wrote that?”

Beyond this, I have had no formal training. I only attended a little over a year of college at an art school, where they did not even teach English much less writing. I never read a book on how to write, or attended a seminar. And not only had I not visited a writing group until after I was published, I never talked to another writer—not even a remotely aspiring one. I had spent a decade earnestly trying to learn to write in a total vacuum.

It was not until I signed with Catt,  my first agent, who had agreed to represent The Crown Conspiracy, that I began to discover how much I didn’t know. She politely mentioned a problem with my point of view and sweetly indicated that there were a couple of places where I was telling and not showing. I had never even heard of these terms before. For those of you who aren’t in the business of writing, these are some of the first things a writer learns if he/she is attending workshops or classes. It turned out I was trying to do calculus without even knowing what addition and subtraction was.

Later, about the time Avempartha was being published, my wife got me into a seminar at George Washington University. It was headed by Mary Morrissy, the award winning Irish author of Mother of Pearl.  On occasion, after class a few of us would join her at one of the tiny Georgetown pubs and chat while we watched people pass by the window. Upon learning that I was already published Mary asked why I was in the class. I replied that I was there because I never learned to write in any formal way. To this she replied, “That’s probably why you’re successful.”

So you see from my experience I don’t see I have all that much to offer. Besides the concept of giving advice on how to go about writing strikes me as a bit arrogant, pretentious, and fairly stupid as no two writers, or approaches, are alike, nor should they be. There is an infinite number of reader’s preferences and as such there should be an equal amount of literary variety to service them. Probably the best advice I can give a writer, is not to listen to anyone’s advice. There are many books I would have deemed unpublishable, or incapable of gaining an audience, which have won the Pulitzer or reaped fortunes for the author. I’m certain I am not alone in my ignorance of what will and won’t be successful. Advice-givers can only speak about their opinions, about what they feel works best, and this might only work for them. Granted there are some universally accepted rules, but even those can be successfully broken.

On the other hand, I am frequently asked for advice about writing. I could tell everyone what I just told you and leave it at that, but this strikes me as a miserably screw-it-forward attitude. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to offer suggestions, it is merely that I have no idea if my currency of thought will have value for anyone else, and I’d hate to derail anyone on the track to greatness by indicating that what they are doing is wrong and having them listen to me.

On my third hand, everyone has to start somewhere, and fearing that a writer will be ruined by listening to my advice is in itself awfully arrogant. It suggests that people aren’t capable of thinking for themselves and determining on their own, the merit of another’s advice.

My wife is a great substantive editor. She has a logical, detail-oriented, engineering type mind. She also has a strong personality and isn’t afraid of debating a character, or plot point even with the guy who invented the world and all the people in it. I can imagine Robin critiquing God on platypuses. “Seriously? You’re going to put this in? You don’t think it’s a little…I don’t know…stupid? Com’on a mammal that lays eggs? That’s inconsistent with everything else you created. I know you love it, but come on. It’s bizarre—an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal? There’s no way that stays in.”

After Robin rips my book apart, I sit down and determine whether to accept her advice or not. In the end it is always my decision. (The other thing that makes Robin a great editor, is that she accepts it when I reject her ideas without asking for a divorce.)

The best I can do then is offer what I’ve learned and you can decide for yourself if you think it’s useful. In so doing, there is the chance I might provide someone with that missing piece they’ve been needing. As such--and this has been quite the preamble--I will begin offering what wisdom I have on how to write novels in a series of posts that I will try and write once a week. We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, here is the first bit of advice that plays into the bit about Robin helping me with my books. When you receive advice on a manuscript, don’t make a decision. Initially all critiques are grating. No matter how nicely delivered, hearing criticism is painful. Most people become defensive. They want to stand up for themselves and explain why it has to be that way, and what the reader clearly missed. I’ve learned that if you get defensive with people giving you honest critiques, you won’t get them anymore. So controlling that reflex is important.

The other thing I found is to wait. I’ve gotten into long running debates with Robin about parts of my books. I argue with her over my work (something I only do with her, because I know she’s capable of standing up to it) I even get angry, though I try to hide it. I defend my stance and have often won the arguments. Then the next day I sit down at my computer. When I’m alone with my thoughts and no one can see, I reevaluate. The anger is gone, the embarrassment, and pride are all someplace else, and it is just me alone with the decision. Most of the time I realize she was right and I quietly make the change.

Robin will then be proof reading the passage and stop. “Hey, I thought you weren’t going to change this?”

“Change what?”

“What do you mean, what? We argued over this for hours. The neighbors almost called the cops. Why’d you change it?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, it’s always been that way.”

I might have gotten away with it if she hadn’t saved the previous copies on her computer.

So getting honest advice is a rare gift. Being able to determine whether to accept it or not is priceless. And getting away with making it look like it was your own idea all along, just doesn’t work.

Stay tuned for more writing tips and if you have any specific questions, things you don’t understand, things that you have problems with, or are just curious about, let me know. I may not know the answers, but I lie real well.


  1. I came across this today:

    The Groupon Guide to: Writing Fiction

    Instead of being based on real-life events, many of today's best-selling books are composed of what are conventionally known as “lies,” although the publishing industry prefers the handy euphemism "fiction." Because they are entirely made up, writing fictional books is extremely easy—just follow this handy guide:

    Use at least three characters:

    Protagonist: The hero. In all books written thus far, the protagonist has been a sullen teenager, a swashbuckling duck, or car that can transform into a smaller car.
    Anti-gonist: The bad guy. Always the protagonist's twin father.
    Love Interest: Either a person or bag of gold that must be rescued by the protagonist.

    Choose a type of conflict

    Man vs. Man: A man fights another man
    Man vs. Himself: A man fights his clone
    Man vs. Nature: A man fights some angry clouds
    Nature vs. Nature: Two angry clouds fight each other

    Finish with a twist:

    It was Earth all along! Or conversely, it was space all along.
    All the characters were ghosts! And the characters that seemed like ghosts were actually mummies.
    It wasn't a book at all, but a helpful exercise VHS! That's why it was so fun to read!

  2. I think you're getting into some advanced writing techniques here.

  3. Oh, can't stop laughing!
    What a great thing to have your books' best editor right there in your own house!
    Possibly uncomfortable from time to time, but undeniably great.

  4. Reading the back of your Theft of Swords Volume 1, where you're interviewed and you talk about how you got back into writing because of Harry Potter; its made me want to write again. It's been a long time since I've allowed my creative mind to flow out onto paper again, but I wanted to thank you.

    Look forward to reading the rest of your blogs!

  5. I can completely relate with this advice! My husband and I both write and we are each others editors (for the moment). It's wonderful and we are lucky to have such easy access to honest critique. We are also in the same magical writing group, which is hard to find...not the group, but the magical part. Love your books by the way...exactly the writing style I crave!

  6. Are you looking for Dissertation Proposal Writing Service? Our writers can help you round the clock. Contact us for best grades. Dissertation Writing Service

  7. Best Dissertation Writing Service & Coursework Writing Service Available in UK. 24/7 Experts & Writers Available. Very Reasonable Prices. No registeration required, Just Email us the Details. Get Free Outline and Proposal at Discounted Rates.
    Dissertation Writing Service

  8. College Homework Help is just few clicks away. Any subject, any time, just email us the details.

    Finance Homework Help

  9. Best Accounting Homework Help Available Since 2005! Get Assitance from Best Tutors, Best Services at Best Prices. No Registeration Required, Just Email Us.
    Finance Homework Help

  10. Rising competitions in the job market have made it necessary to obtain better grades at colleges and Universities. That adds pressure to the students who are already under a lot of stress of their college and university assignments. Coursework Writing Service

  11. The requirement might be for homework, term papers, research paper or essay writing and you can stay confident that they will cover each topic in ample depth to come up with the best possible outcome. The best part is that no one is even required to register to avail any of the writing services and the delivery is prompt too. What subjects we cover is no question as it consists of everyone right from math to statistics, finance, management, physics, biology, economics, computer science and programming with all other engineering fields as well.
    Finance Homework Help

  12. Thesis Writing Service or Dissertation Help, just send us an email and we will get that done by our qualified writers within deadline for resonable rates.

    Dissertation Writing Service

  13. Coursework Service USA is an online website that has been solely created for the benefit of the students.

  14. It is an immense task to already burdened students of a College or a University to submit coursework since it requires hours and hours of research in order to compose a unique one. Proper sourcing and references need to be researched in order to get the work done. If proper assistance is provided to such students the students will definitely do well. Coursework writing services can make life easy for such pupils. One such service on the internet is Coursework Writing Help

  15. Are you aware of the good news? Here is help coming to you online from the popular course work writing service History Essay Help

  16. Quality College Homework Help Available at Most Reasonable Prices.Social Study Homework Help

  17. There is one famous writers’ group which is known as is a supplier of quality writers. College Homework Help

  18. The main assistance that this group provides is related to academic writing, business writing, writing of thesis etc. Here we can get excellent tutors from the fields like Finance, Science, Geography, Political Science, Taxation and business laws, History, Medicine and many more. They also take assignments related to mathematics, economics, statistics and power point presentation.
    College Homework Help

  19. We specialist in research paper writing, essay writing and case study. We provide you with top notch service in a myriad of academic subjects such as History, English, Finance, Math, Economics and Accountancy. We offer complete transparency in your work and provide you the right treatment. Finance Assignment Help

  20. Our website is engaged in offering super-fine services in providing homework to the students rendered them by their institutions. We provide services like:
    College Assignment Help

  21. The most important thing about blogs is that many of them keep people informed and also helped. Wishing that i will find such relevant details in the future
    Coursework Writing Help UAE

  22. Are there things that school confirmation officers may get a kick out of the chance to ask you in the wake of auditing your application? Schools like to peruse about what you have achieved in your life and how you will add to their school grounds. They need to recognize what makes you tick.writing a research proposal

  23. Every person who shares with his/her experience in writing helps a lot. We all need to develop writing as well as others skills. But we don't have always the time for writing, for example an essay, then we can refer to services, have a peek at this web-site and find more about the services!

  24. The Engineer works are one of the principal tries designated to the understudies. The shabby, Engineering Dissertations Help get helped with the best piece
    framing works inside the due date. The best specialists in the unassuming paper shaping association takes the heading from the clients and in light of the principles
    readies the article making work to the frame my piece unpretentious clients. You can organize your paper to have your objective of make my piece shabby and get a best made

    work close by with unpretentious and best offers.

  25. This blog turned out to be really inspirational specifically for those students who are really interested in learning the art of writing so that they would get excelled in their academic reputation.

    custom essay help

  26. Dissertation Proposal Writing Services or Dissertation Help, just reply to this ad and we'll have that made by our qualified writers within due date for reasonable charges.

  27. Writing is a best way to communicate with others about a specific topic and we need to develop our creative writing skill for expressing views in a convincing manner. Admission essay writing service

  28. The ability to convince reader is the most important thing in creative writing. Develop a unique writing style and communicate your readers in a simple way. It will be more effective in creative writing. Essay writing service reviews

  29. Great advice!
    I learn about writing everyday and find that the most important thing you need to learn about writing is that you have to write as often as possible - everyday.
    Also, doing a research will make your writing more fundamental.
    Just like reading out loud will help you to find awkward sounding sentences.

    Jennifer, Website

  30. A writer must have complete knowledge about the writing and must have good vocabulary. It can be developed with help of continues training of available best essay writing service reviews

  31. Students must need best writing advice to complete the writing task on time without any worries. Expert writers of essay writing service reviews provide best writing tips and suggestions for students.

  32. While the potato is of great importance in the United States, it is in northern and central Europe that it is often the chief starchy food of the common people. In addition to its use as food for man and beast, the manufacture of industrial alcohol and of starch is of much importance.
    homework teacher

  33. I must say - Pretty Impressive! I will surely come back every time a new post is published. Keep up the good work that you are doing.

    Assignment help online Australia

  34. Great site and a great topic as well I really get amazed to read this. It’s really good. I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. Assignment help | Assignment Expert | Marketing Assignment help | Law Assignment help | Make My Law Assignment

  35. I am an antique article collector and this article is one of the best I have ever read. I hope to see the same amazing work from you in future. Thanks
    Do my Assignment

  36. I’m really impressed with your article, such great & usefull knowledge you mentioned here homeopathy child specialist in jaipur

  37. Nice Blog! Experience the Best Assignment Writing Services at Assignment Help Sydney Australia

  38. I really bookmarked reader I love this blog and informative topic thanks for sharing I like Essay Writers UK


  39. Experienced WritersCustom College Essays - Get best Highly Credible and Experienced Writers. We have writers who have passion and experience to write for you. 


  40. فكرة برمجية لتقنية المعلومات . متخصصين في إنتاج البرمجيات تقديم حلول مميزة لادارة اعمالك
    وإنطلاقا من خبرتنا فى مجال البرمجيات الحسابية و الإدارية توصلنا إلى حل مناسب لصناعة برمجيات تساعد فى عملية الإدارة لـ " المحلات - المؤسسات - المستودعات - الشركات - المصانع - المعارض - الصيدليات
    بحيث يصبح تخزين المنتجات وحفظ الحسابات ومعرفة الصادر والوارد وبيانات الموظفين والارباح أو الخسائر والمبيعات والمشتريات والتخزين ومتابعتهم واصدار الفواتير وعمليات الجرد والتسوية وإنشاء تقارير منوعة لاداء وحسابات الشركة اكثر سهوله ودقة وسرعة وحرفية

    “ما يميز البرنامج هو التصميم البسيط و السهولة المحكمة التي لا تُخل بجودة مخرجات
    البرنامج وسرعة الإنجاز. يعجبني أيضا التكامل بين مختلف مكونات البرنامج، إمكانية إدارة البرنامج من أي مكان بالعالم، الدعم الفني السريع و أخيرا التجاوب السريع في تلبية اقتراحات العملاء
    محاسبة أونلاين
    أدر محاسبة شركتك على الانترنت في أي وقت ومن أي مكان. يمكن تخصيص البرنامج وجميع المستندات كالفواتير، عروض الأسعار، سندات الطلب، إشعار الدائن لتتماشى مع جميع ميادين العمل
    إستيراد البيانات
    الانتقال من البرنامج القديم إلى النظام يتم بسهولة بفضل خاصيات إستيراد البيانات. بالمقابل يمكن في أي وقت عمل نسخة احتياطية وإستيراد جميع المستندات والتقارير. تاتي على شكل CSV أو اكسيل أو PDF
    إدارة كاملة ومبسطة
    صمم حتى يكون أفضل برنامج محاسبي عربي وذلك بفضل تمكنه من جمع جميع ما تحتاج إليه الشركة : برنامج مخازن، برنامج مبيعات، برنامج العملاء،وبرامج محاسبي يتضمن شجرة حسابات كاملة.
    تتبع بسهولة فواتيرك في مكان واحد
    بفضل وضع فواتيرك يمكنك متابعة الزبائن لمعرفة اذا كانوا قد توصلوا بفواتيرهم ومعرفة بسهولة إذا قاموا بدفع مستحقاتهم بالكامل أو جزئيا و مراسلتهم إذا كانوا متأخرين. رموز الألوان هي مفيدة لمتابعة المعاملات الخاصة بك ومراقبة رصيدك.
    نموذج فاتورة بخيارات متعددة
    يمكنك التعديل على فواتيرك في أي وقت وإرفاق ملفات مثل
    صور المنتجات لإرسالها إلى الزبائن. يمكن تحميل الفواتير على شكل بي دي إف، طباعتها أو ارسالها عبر البريد من دون مغادرة البرنامج. ودون تغيير تسلسل الترقيم، يمكنك شطب فاتورة غير مدفوعة أو إلغائها حتى وإن كانت قد أرسلت سابقا. برنامج محاسبة للمحلات افضل برنامج محاسبة في السعودية برنامج محاسبة للشركات الصغيرة فضل برامج المحاسبة العالمية برنامج محاسبة للشركات

  41. Most of the writing advice's are common but you wrote and describe something unique about writing. I am a capable assignment writer at Best Assignment Help UK Company and I just want to include that if you want to improve your writing skill then start reading books and articles now.

  42. Thank you very much for this useful article. I like it.
    Academic Writing Service

  43. Well that is great article hopefully I will read more of your content.

  44. Thanks for sharing such a great information With us . Its really informative and interesting Looking forward to see more update like that .

    Thesis Writing Services

  45. do you want writing help? Writing tips will help you to complete your essay in simple method.Visit best essay writing service to get guidance to complete your work.

  46. It is often seen, that the students face trouble with their coursework. Such students can take the assistance of the services provided by the various websites to get their coursework completed. Best Assignment Help