“What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?”

In the course of Googling something else the other night, I ran across an article on a blog that intrigued me. The blogger devoted his entire time to tearing down a very successful author, whose name I shall not mention. In a nutshell, the blogger said she loved this particular author UNTIL she started following him on social media where said author made a number of missteps. Her main complaint, however, was that he never offered anything to the aspiring writers who clustered about him waiting for a morsel of genius to fall on them.

Instead, the author in question would fill his Twitter feed with his daily word counts, bits from his new books, or his favorite quotes from his old books. Why doesn’t the author just be himself? the blogger asked.

(Ahem. Possibly because he might not be his actual self. Lord knows, if I ever get to the point he’s at, I’m going to hire someone to handle social media for me. It’s part of the job of being a writer, but if you can afford to pay someone else to do it for you so you can keep doing what you really enjoy doing—writing—well, who can blame you…much?)

But I digress. This article got me thinking. Have I ever gotten any actually useful advice from a successful published author? I’ve seen several speak. Some tell stories about how they became successful. Sometimes you can glean some bit of something useful out of that, but for the most part, you’re left wondering, Why couldn’t that happen to me? Every now and then, though, somebody says something that sticks with you, that really helps.

Unfortunately, I honestly can’t remember who said the most useful writing tip I ever got from a published writer. I think it was a man, and I believe it was while I was in college. Other than that, I’m at a loss. At any rate, what he said was, “Tell you readers your secrets.”

That startled me. My secrets. He was talking about writing fiction. Novels. Not true stuff. Why would I tell my secrets? Real stuff. But I’ve found over the years that he was right. If you mix a little bit of reality into your fiction, it makes it live and breathe in a way that purely made up stuff could never do. And the great thing is, you don’t have to tell your reader what bits are true. You just write from the heart, mix in things that are true with things that you wish could be true or you fear ever coming true and what results is so much more than fiction.

Here’s a bit of writing advice from me, a published, if not yet successful, author. Don’t expect too much from your heroes. No matter how successful they are, they’re caught up in a balancing act, just like the rest of us. They may not have to make ends meet financially (well, the top 1% don’t, anyway), but they are trying to balance marketing and social media and family with what they really probably still want to do—writing. So don’t expect too much, but listen when you’re lucky enough to hear one speak. They might just give you that tidbit you’ve been waiting for.

6 thoughts on ““What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?”

  1. The first writing tips to have struck me in a long time are these, collected by WG Sebald’s students: http://richardskinner.weebly.com/2/post/2013/01/max-sebalds-writing-tips.html

    I think in general writing tips can’t be generic, because different people work differently, but I like “Use the word ‘and’ as little as possible. Try for variety in conjunctions” and “Don’t be afraid to bring in strange, eloquent quotations and graft them into your story. It enriches the prose. Quotations are like yeast or some ingredient one adds.”

  2. Best advice I think I received was from none other than Brian Keene, who has no idea who I am but he gave it to me none-the-less (through his blog). Write every day. Treat writing like a business. Like a job. Inspiration is for playtime, so forget that and just write. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, because he used, shall I say, a number of colorful descriptors in his blog).

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