Mon 29 Jun 2009
Ever notice how much writing advice there is floating around out there? Well here are some of the most common ones I’ve heard and my take on them.
Advice: Writing is re-writing.
“I don’t write, I rewrite, that’s when all the fun begins. I just get it all out in the first draft, then I spend countless hours going back and editing, editing, editing.”
Okay, revision is important. But do we really just need to throw caution to the wind when do our first drafts? I contend that, especially with flash, the answer is no. I think those hours editing, editing, editing would be far better spent studying dramatic structure, successful stories we admire, or even just day dreaming. You put good stuff in, good stuff will come out. Overworking a flash piece can ruin it by the second pass. Too much revision is far worse than not enough.
Suggestion: If it doesn’t work set it aside for a while, a couple of months. Let the ideas percolate, then rewrite it from memory.
Advice: Keep a notebook for ideas.
“I keep a little notebook that I carry everywhere and record every stray thought that pops into my head. It’s a rich goldmine of ideas.”
Yeah, I’m sure it is a rich goldmine of random ideas. But good fiction is not made out of random thoughts. Yes, you might put a seed for a good idea in there sometime. Yes, it might turn into a story for you. My line of thought on this advice is that if the idea is not good enough to stick in your head, it’s probably not all that great of an idea. If you aren’t obsessed with the idea, it’s not worth writing about. Flash is short and sweet, most of us are quite capable of rendering the whole thing in our heads.
Suggestion: Most authors I know do keep some kind of idea file on their computer usually just a one liner or a title. There is nothing wrong with this, per se, but again, if you can’t keep the idea in your head long enough to sit down and file it, it probably is not worth saving.
Advice: Write everyday, form a habit.
“I get up every morning at the crack of dawn, and write four pages. If not, evil gremlins will come and eat my brains!”
Would be nice to have that kind of motivation, right? Unfortunately it is impossible to do this for most people. I think most of us writing flash are not professional writers and have jobs and families, and complex ‘real-life’ lives to attend to. One of the fun things about writing flash is it doesn’t require long term commitment. Why not dash out a flash when you have a few minutes? No need to feel guilty that you can’t always find the time.
Suggestion: To be efficient with your time, combine daydreaming with a strong understanding of the craft of fiction. It’s often easier to fit in a few minutes reading up on writing advice than to produce a draft. Better that you do something towards developing your skills than nothing. Read, develop the story in your head, watch people (your kids, coworkers, etc) for details that might be useful. Anything.
Advice: Author’s should always get paid for their work.
“I only submit to top tier magazines that pay pro rates.”
Get published much? Probably not. The fact is there are a 1000 writers who are worse than you who are getting published. And there are a 1000 writers better than you waiting in line for their slots. Writers should get paid for their work, but keep in mind that flash is a close cousin to poetry, traditionally not a very lucrative venture. Most flash ezines need the money more than you do. Most flash ezines are labors of love with the editors paying out of their pockets.
Suggestion: Donate cash payments back to the ezine or some where like Duotrope these are the places that are keeping the scene alive. They are developing the audience for you. Think of your donated flashes as advertisements for your longer works (you are writing a novel aren’t you? Or will someday.) Creating ‘branding’ for your fiction has a long term value that exceeds the professional rates. We new writers have a vested interest in keeping the scene alive, right? (Obviously I’m not saying one should never submit to top tier magazines, just that not every story you write will be top tier.)
Advice: Writing is magical, mystical and hard.
“Every word I write is gut-wrenching agony, exposing my soul to the world.”
Right. This is the worst of the lot. I’ve often thought, I must be doing this wrong. I’ve never been miserable writing; if so I wouldn’t do it. There are some stages I like more than others, of course. But if writing is a painful experience at any level, for god-sakes, go take up needlepoint or something. Writing is a craft; writing can be used to illustrate complex philosophy, existential woe, or something as simple as a lost pet that is found. Writing is like wood working, model ship building, or painting. It takes practice and determination. If it is causing you to suffer, go do something else; the world has enough writers. Flash is a bad place to try to unleash your angst and misery, not enough room for that sort of thing.
Suggestion: Write for fun; write for yourself; write from the heart, but most of all, write your best. If you’ve done your best then you’ve succeeded. Develop your craft; develop yourself as a human being, but where the two overlap is thin and fragile and can easily wreck an otherwise perfectly good story.
Advice: Bosley has a clue, listen to him.
“Bosley Gravel is a writing genius and with his dozens of published short stories and a forthcoming novel The Movie from BeWrite Books slated for pre-Christmas release), he must know almost everything there is to know about writing.”
Ahem, while I appreciate the flattery–what a load. If there were to be a Number One Rule about writing, it would be that there are no rules.
Suggestion: Do what works for you. Trust your instincts. That’s not to say ignore all advice you get because you know best. Lots of editors and writers will offer you perfectly good advice and lots of them will not ‘get’ your writing and make some very odd suggestions. Your job is to separate the two.
Knowing what advice to take and when to trust your own instincts can be hard and confusing sometimes, but becoming an expert in any field is difficult. The bottom line is that writing is an act of individualism. Only you can write your stories and only you can make them perfect. If some advice doesn’t suit you, ignore it. It’s allowed, and I’ll even suggest it for the best. Keeps things interesting.
Don’t agree? Want to fight about it? Post a comment and tell us your take on these or any other bits of advice you’ve heard.
Bosley Gravel, eclectic hack writer, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up. Visit his site for links to his fiction, and contact information.
Coming soon: his debut literary novel The Movie from BeWrite Books (for pre-Christmas Release).