Should I Stop Telling You What to Do?

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Recently, I was scrolling through Twitter (as I do several times a day) when I came across a post from either someone I follow or someone who had been liked, retweeted or commented on by someone I follow. (It’s hard to tell sometimes.) The poster essentially said that unless you were Stephen King or some other bestselling writer, then he didn’t think he should read or follow any advice you might have about writing. Most of the comments agreed with him. Some even thought that the only way to improve was to write more (but not to listen to advice on how they might be able to write better).

I have no problem with Stephen King. I have his book On Writing. I’ve read it. I don’t consider it a Bible on the craft. I’ve written and published two books on writing myself. I’m close to completing a third. I don’t consider any of them definitive guides on writing. (Obviously, if one of them was a Bible on writing, I’d be a lot more successful than I am now and I wouldn’t have needed to write the other two.) I have many books on writing. None of them render all other books on writing irrelevant. Continue reading

Stop Telling Me What to Do

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I don’t claim to know everything. I hope everyone who reads what I write understands that. I hope people who read what I write understand that I’m just trying to help by putting what I do know and more tenuously but less definitively what I think into words. I hope everyone else out there understands that they don’t know everything either. No one does. No one can.

And yet there are some who feel sure that their way is the right way with no room for deviation or difference. And they have no second thoughts about telling everyone who will listen and the vast majority who don’t want to. I get a bit tired of being told I’m living my life wrong. If it’s true, then I will be the one who ultimately suffers. If I’m not (and even if I am), I don’t want to listen to other people’s judgements on actions that only affect me.

So let me say this. (No, actually, I don’t care whether you let me or not, I’m going to say it anyway.) Stop telling me what to do. Continue reading

Twitter Writing Wisdom

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Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I aim for approximately 1,000 words. But as I posted my most recent tweet (as of writing this), I realised that writing advice doesn’t always have to be quite so lengthy. Here’s a selection of my Twitter ramblings (right back to when I started tweeting at the end of 2012) to do with writing. Hope you get something out of it. (I got an entire blog post out of it!) Continue reading

Why Do Some Writers Hate Adverbs?

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“The hatred of adverbs amongst writers, and specifically teachers of creative writing, has become so commonplace, so unquestioned, and so unthinking, that it ranks only with ‘show, don’t tell’ as the most ubiquitous cliché in writing advice.” Colin Dickey

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The thing about clichés is that many of them are accurate. It’s how they become clichés. “Show, don’t tell” is essential writing advice. It is how “He went here, he went there, he did this, he did that” becomes “The crowded train to the edge of the city was oppressive but the only alternative was to take the bus since what he was heading to was the mechanic’s workshop holding his car hostage until he paid the enormous repair bill. And the only thing he hated more than mechanics was buses.”

But the ongoing campaign against the use of all adverbs isn’t helpful at all. So whenever anyone says that writers shouldn’t use them, I want to scream, “Stop telling me what to do!” No adverbs in that sentence so they shouldn’t be too offended unless the screaming puts them off. But oops! One has snuck in. (Don’t see it? It’s the “too”.) Does that little modifier render everything I’ve written here unreadable? I don’t think so. Apparently some do. Uh oh, there’s another! (“Apparently.”) Continue reading

Advice to a Young Writer

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Five years ago, as a favour, I did a manuscript assessment for a young, first-time writer, someone I had known all his life. I didn’t charge for it and reading it back now I wonder if I went a little harder than I would have had he been a paying customer. Perhaps it was just that I was still in my brutally honest phase. (That’s assuming I’m not still in it – the jury’s out.)

But for any young writers willing to take advice on board, there were a lot of really good ideas on how he could become a better writer. If you’re a young writer or even just a beginner, maybe there’s something in there for you. Hopefully, there’s something in there for all of us. Continue reading

Problematic Advice to a Jobseeker

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I know how lucky I am. By choice, I’ve had a year out of permanent work, spending that time writing, doing some more writing, writing a little more, publishing a book I wrote, and being choosy about which freelance roles I accepted.

But now that I’m looking to return to full-time work, I’ve had a number of interesting pieces of advice on how I can do that more easily. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are downright terrible. Some might seem unethical. But if everybody else is doing them, am I just losing out by not doing them, too? Continue reading

“Right,” Said Fred – But How Did He Say It?

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I was reading the writing tips of a published author recently and amongst rather a lot of them was the advice that almost all dialogue attribution should use “said”. If the dialogue is a question, then “asked” is acceptable and if someone is responding, then “answered” is also okay. But nothing else. And even better, don’t use dialogue attribution at all.

Leaving aside questions of verb tense, I can’t tell you how much I disagree with this advice. Because while it tells me that a character was speaking, it gives no indication of how the character said the words. And often the words themselves just aren’t enough for me to know. Continue reading