Thursday, October 2, 2014

Best and Worst Advice: A Writer Roundtable

Hey, it's the return of the weekly Writers Roundtable interview! This week, we're going to lots of my favorite writers to learn what advice they got from their fellow authors. 

Bear in mind, one writer's treasure is another writer's trash, so the authors herein will not always agree on the issues. 


So let's dive in. There's a lot to digest here. 


What is the best advice you received from a fellow writer?

R.J. Sullivan: Stop your writing session composing mid-sentence while you are "hot" and your next session will start the same way. (It really works!).

Tammy Jo Eckhart: Reread what you wrote the day before to get you back in the story.

Terry Smiles: Writing a novel is iterative.

Aaron Drown: Joel Rosenberg once told me: All you need to know before writing a story is where to begin and where to end—and more often than not you'll be wrong about the latter.

Marian Allen: "Don't take yourself too seriously, but take what you DO *very* seriously, and insist on your family taking it seriously, too. This isn't something you play at; this is your WORK."

Leslea Tash: Study what sells if you want your work to sell.

Lucy Blue: Write every day and to hell with whether or not you feel inspired.

Iscah: Too long and detailed to quote, but I can sum it up as "Write better."

Armand Rosamilia:  Not only write every day but read everything you can, especially out of your genre.

Jack Wallen: Read your work out loud -- or, if you're in bed with your wife, at least read it in your head. The second you hear those words, you'll know if they work.

Rebekah McAuliffe: Keep writing. No matter what, keep writing.

Logan L. Masterson: Every piece of writing advice I was ready to hear.

Scott Sandridge: Read a lot, write a lot.

Addie J. King: If you really want to write don't give up, but always keep learning and trying new things.

Violet Patterson: Write, edit, write, edit, write, write, edit, edit. Or something like that.

Susan Burdorf: NEVER GIVE UP. If you have a story write it down, polish it, make it something you want to read and others will too.

Tony Acree: Don't edit a single line of your novel until you are finished. Early in the game I tried to make each chapter perfect, often killing my forward momentum. She said I should keep a folder and if I'm in chapter 7 and come up with a cool idea for chapter 1, make a note of it and add it during rewrites. Best advice ever.

Ric Martens: Stop saying you want to be a writer and start writing. Also, write every day even when you don't want to.

Mark Holmes: When you are stuck just go in a completely opposite direction. More often than not you will self correct and resolve the plot point.

Shane Moore: Best from Matthew Woodring Stover, "You don't have to be good. Just good enough to sell,” and from Michael Stackpole, "60% of selling your writing is selling yourself. If they like you, they already like your writing before reading it." (And if you know of my career --I took both of those and ran with them.)

Frank Fradella: In 1984, I bought a copy of the Writer's Handbook. (It was kind of like the Writer's Market, but it had better articles at the time.) In it there were two essays: "Everything You Need to Know About Writing in 10 Minutes" by Stephen King, and "Creating a Series Character" by Robert B. Parker. Every other writing program in the world should be abolished and replaced with just these two essays.

Lisa Matthews Collins: When you get an edited manuscript back, read it quickly, go cry in the corner, have a fit, But pick it back up in a day or two (if you're still bleeding) and then you will see the truth in their words. You don't have to take all the advice, but you'll find that much, much more of it makes sense after you get over the pain. -- That advice has worked successfully for me and led to publication.

H. David Blalock: The best advice I ever got from another author was to keep writing no matter what. Bull through rejection with revision, handle writer's block with variety. It has served me very well over the years.

Aaron Smith: A few years ago I got a message from an editor telling me that the manuscript for one of my novels needed a lot of work, more work than anything I'd ever worked on before. I was horrified. It felt like she wanted to shred the thing and rebuild it. I felt like crap for a few hours, thought about scrapping the project. Then I asked Ron Fortier for advice. His simple response was, "Love the story, not the words." That made the process much easier. When it was over, the tale I wanted to tell was told and the excess fat had been cut from the book.

Josh Dahl: Best advice was from a writing instructor who assured me that all of the complex, nuanced, and intellectual responses to literature are just dolled-up versions of "Whoah, cool!"

Perry Constantine: Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Forcing it is better than waiting. You can always cut the crap later.

Peter Welmerink: Suck freely and wantonly on your first draft. Just write it. Don't worry how it sounds, how it is written, just write it. Get the first draft down and done, then go  polish the turd.

Ray Dean: Write, revise, submit, write, revise, submit (works for shampoo...)

Susan H. Roddey: There are two pieces, actually. The first: For the first five years of your career, don't expect a huge following. Don't expect a bestseller. And certainly don't expect anyone to get upset if you don't get these things. And in the same vein, I was told (by the same author) to never put all of my eggs in one basket -- meaning don't stick with just one publisher in one circle forever. You have to expand your horizons and your reach in order to make a name for yourself. It's a hard business, and it's a lot of work.

Cynthia Ward: Pay attention to point of view. (This advice can conflict with best advice above if you are constantly checking point of view. Point of view consumed one authors' group member so much that he spent more time checking the work for point of view problems than providing feedback on
the story line.)

What's the worst or most useless advice you received from another writer?

R.J. Sullivan: The need for "Journaling." Don't care, don't need it, glad it works for some people, though.

Tammy Jo Eckhart: Accept every invitation you get for a story, chapter, article, etc... that's just an invitation to burn out and over extend.

Terry Smiles: Do whatever your editor suggests.

Aaron Drown: "Join a writers' group." Writing is as subjective an endeavor as it is solitary. As with any art form, ultimately the most important person the artist needs to satisfy through his work is the artist himself.

Marian Allen: Most useless advice: Write to the market. I can't write to the market; I MARKET to the market; I WRITE to the story.

Leslea Tash: Just keep doing you, don't worry, someday you will take off.

Lucy Blue: Read The New Yorker (or The Georgia Review or The Paris Review or Grandma Lichtenstein's Olde Time Hillbilly Receipts and Literary Extravanganza or any other "little magazine" you aren't naturally interested in reading) to find out what they publish then write accordingly, and to hell with getting paid.

Iscah: Write what you know.

Armand Rosamilia: Don't quit your day job.

Jack Wallen: Get a street team and have them pimp your work (yeah, it's just other people SPAMMING people with your name associated -- bad call).

Rebekah McAuliffe: This didn't happen to me, but it happened to my sister. When a NY Times Bestselling Author came to visit her school a couple of years back, she told her about a book she was writing. The author then told her to stop writing it because "it sounded too much like Red Dawn." It almost killed her dream of writing.

Logan L. Masterson: Write what you know. Why? It's ludicrous. I've never been stabbed in the gut, but my high-adventure fantasy would be kind of lame without sword wounds. I also don't know any werewolves, steampunk superheroes or Lovecraftian aberrations, but I feel like I write them fairly convincingly. Furthermore, if you feel like you don't know it, go research it. Not difficult.

Scott Sandridge: Some silly shit about making it "unique."

Addie J. King: Write what's selling well. Catching a market trend is hard to do.

Violet Patterson: Don't self publish, you won't make any money or get any respect.

Susan Burdorf: Don't worry about punctuation -- that is what editors are for.

Tony Acree: That I shouldn't write while listening to music. This author suggested listening to music while writing would be too distracting. Not only do I write listening to music, often my head never stops bopping while I write. I believe it gives the demented little man sitting in the back of my brain something to do while I write. Otherwise, he's always clamoring for attention. Sad part? He seems to like Barry Manilow. Sometimes, I hate that guy.

Ric Martens: Try to make the first draft the only draft... that never works out well for me.

Mark Holmes: Just write what you know about.

Shane Moore: The worst was from myself before I knew anything about the scam of vanity press. And I told myself, "If I'm not willing to invest in myself, why should I expect anyone else to be willing?" (I later learned the scam and stolen dreams of a vanity press.)

Frank Fradella: "Join a writer's group." Pay close attention, kiddies. No author you admire or look up to is in a writer's group. Not the way they do them these days. They used to have potential, but the California Sorcery group broke the mold when they put Harlan Ellison, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson and a few others into a room with manual typewriters, cartons of unfiltered cigarettes and booze in the 1950s. What they do today is a support group for people who suck. If you want to write better, show your work to people who are better than you and let them rip you apart. Say thank you. Then keep writing.

Because the best science fiction and fantasy holds up a mirror to society. The "write what you know" adage doesn't mean "don't do research" and "don't stretch your legs a bit." It means write from your experiences. Write from a point of view that is informed, that is personal, that has some MEAT to it.

Look at Alien Nation. A group of alien slaves get stranded here on Earth and are forced to integrate into society. It's highly unlikely that anyone reading this has ever been a slave or an alien or shipwrecked somewhere without a way home. But the gist of the show was about bigotry and racism and hate crimes against people who just looked different than us. The writers of that show knew all they needed to know about racism and xenophobic behavior. They knew about the pitfalls of mixed marriages. That's the MEAT of it. That's what you write. The rest is a coat of paint and some window dressing.

Lisa Matthews Collins: Only write what you know. --- I'm a Science Fiction writer. I don’t actually know any aliens.

H. David Blalock: The worst advice I got was to write only what I know. Yes, I have given that same advice to some people but usually only to beginning writers. Once you've had a hand at the craft for a while, it's almost imperative you stretch yourself and learn how to speculate, innovate, and exercise your imagination. Otherwise, what's the purpose of being a writer.

Aaron Smith: "Stick to one genre." Why would I want to do that? My ideas are spread out among a handful of genres. I'm not going to abandon stories so I can concentrate solely on horror or mystery or anything else to the exclusion of all other kinds of stories.

Josh Dahl: Seriously, not making this up... In a discussion on deciding the race of characters in comic book scripts, some guy suggested that I simply don't worry about it. Worry about describing the clothing and leave determining the race to THE COLORIST!

Perry Constantine: Edit until it's perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good. I make two passes on a manuscript and then send it off to people smarter than me.

Peter Welmerink: Write what you know and stick to one genre. No one would want to read what I know, probably. I can spice up what I know with what I don't know with study and research, and pepper more fantastical in there. And stick to one genre. Blah. Useless advice.

Ray Dean: They'll never buy that... give it up.

Susan H. Roddey: "Write to the market." I write for me first and foremost. If I don't enjoy what I'm writing, how can I expect anyone else to enjoy it? I don't want to compromise my values by churning out work I'm not proud of just to make a buck. I'd rather stand on talent and integrity than my knowledge of how to beat the system.

Cynthia Ward: Best advice received from another writer: Just get it done! There is so
much relief once a piece is written - indescribable.