Best Writing Advice Ever

I had a discussion with a writer friend of mine. We tend to be polar opposites in many ways and the pursuit of writing is no different. We both have the big dream, publishing regularly and successfully enough to kick the dreaded day job to the curb. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Our main point of contention is whether or not reading books on craft is really worth the effort. My answer is an enthusiastic yes. Hers is a skeptical not so much. She gave me the side eye when I told her that I read craft books so that I know what I’m doing. She argued that those same books hinder creativity.

 I can see her point. There are so many writing rules that one can become overwhelmed. And then there is that tendency to accept all those rules as absolutes (which they aren’t). Or the desire to adopt some expert’s writing process because it worked for them. They made x amount of dollars doing it that way. It should work for me too. Right? Right?

Pitfalls, yes, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. How much creativity does one need to suck at writing? Or to be mediocre? Creativity cannot be short-circuited by studying actual technique.  It can only be enhanced by it. All the imagination and creativity in the world is useless without the skill to effectively tell a story.

When I was pursuing an MFA, one of my professors told me to “stop resting on talent, and study your craft.” I hated her for it at the time. I felt picked on, but now I know better. It was the most sincere and most useful writing advice I’ve gotten to date. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to be creative.  It’s a publishing jungle out there!

Talent+ Creativity-Skill= A Short-lived writing career (if it ever gets off the ground)

Sure, there are other ways to learn craft. However, there are few that are so readily available , fewer as cheap (break out your library card), and none so adaptable to your own pace. I’m lazy. I don’t want to spend hours toiling away, trying to figure out on my own what I could have learned easily from picking up a book or two. I’m grateful for the kick in pants that  professor gave me. Otherwise, I’d still be clinging to my delusions of grandeur.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?


Posted on March 26, 2011, in Miscellany and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think the advice that resonates for me is that it takes almost a million written words before a writer starts writing at a professional level. Add that with my mantra of “A writer writes” and I think that states quite clearly what needs to be done for most of us to improve.

  2. I agree that we must study craft. Whether that is learned through books on the topic, workshops, critiquing with other writers, or reading blogs – or a combination doesn’t matter so much as applying what we learned. A person can go overboard, but I find that is studying a topic lets you see things you might miss.

    Last week I attended a workshop on layering and how to add depth to your novel. I knew most of what our speaker talked about. (Been at this awhile.) But when I got back to my work I still found myself looking at anew, adding words here and there that deepened the chapter.

    Good topic, well-written post. Thank you!

    • That fresh perspective you get from studying craft (in whatever form you choose) is priceless. Sometimes it’s totally new info, sometimes it’s a refresher-beneficial either way.:) Thanks for responding.

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