GUEST POST: 3 Oft-Repeated Writing Tips You Might Not Want to Follow

Guys, today I come with a GREAT TIP from Desiree Villena, who has the coolest name ever. I hope it helps you!

3 Oft-Repeated Writing Tips You Might Not Want to Follow

If you’ve browsed any kind of writing site, watched YouTube videos geared to authors, visited an author website, or even joined a writer’s group, no doubt you’ve heard plenty of opinions on writing. It’s one of our favorite things to talk about — and who can blame us?

Unfortunately, not all advice is good advice. Even if it’s something you hear all the time. Everyone likes to speak with authority, and when you find something that works for you, it’s easy to assume it will work for everyone. That’s why, amid the shoulds and musts, it’s important to examine all writing advice with a critical eye to see if the advice fits in with your process, your style, and your experiences.

At the end of the day, the rules of writing are like the rules of being a pirate:

They’re more like guidelines, anyway. So let’s get down to three writing “rules” that are often preached — and why you might want to break them.

1. Learn to write short stories before you write a novel

To be clear, you absolutely can learn short stories first if you want. Short stories are great! They are not, however, a gateway to novels, and the notion that short stories are faster to write — therefore allowing you to practice your craft by producing more work in a shortened amount of time — is flat-out wrong.

Why? It’s simple: short stories and novels are entirely different things.

Yes, some of the knowledge you’ll gain from writing short stories is transferable when you tackle novels. But the way you handle plot, structure, and characterization will deviate — sometimes subtly and sometimes fundamentally. Even sentence-level pacing will be different. Because the forms are so disparate, you’d need to re-learn many of the skills you thought you’d mastered when you jump from one to the other.

In short: there’s no reason you need to “build” writing skills in a particular order. Write short stories if you want to. Write novels if you want to. Write poetry or essays if you want to. Aim to self-publish your works if you want to! It will all improve your craft, but don’t ever feel like you’re less of a writer if you only focus on one form.

2. You must always outline / You should never outline

Case in point: which is it? If you created a survey to test this eternal debate out, you’d probably see a lot of opinions.

But the truth is that neither is a hard and fast rule to becoming a successful writer. Different people have different processes. And here’s the thing about advice that relates to process — i.e. the habits and structures you follow as you write and edit your book — as opposed to advice on the craft of writing: the only “right” way to do it is the one that gets your book written. So long as the end result is a manuscript you’re happy with, then that process worked for you.

Which means that whether or not you outline a book is completely up to you, and your own method. It varies from author to author—indeed, even from story to story! Each story has its own needs, just like each writer has their own needs. That said, if you do want to give outlining a shot, here’s a downloadable worksheet for you right here on this site.

3. Cut your writing to the bone

This advice crops up in many different forms. Sometimes it’s people telling you to cull all adverbs. Sometimes it’s the familiar “kill your darlings” refrain. Other times it’s a quote from Hemingway telling you to use short sentences, or Strunk & White’s famous “omit needless words” tip.

The thing is, this advice isn’t inherently bad or wrong. You can often strengthen a sentence by replacing a weak adverb/verb combination with a more precise verb. You also don’t necessarily want to hang onto something that isn’t working just because you have an emotional attachment to it. And you do want your writing to be “clean.”

So what’s wrong with it? Well, its sheer pervasiveness makes it sound as if there is no room for flowery language or long descriptions — at all.

While “purple prose” is never the ideal, some voices and genres are absolutely more open to metaphors and clever wordplay. You might not want to bog down your high-stakes thriller with a nuanced account of every subtle slight that led to the slow crumbling of a failing marriage — but that interesting description would be entirely appropriate for a piece of literary fiction.

Similarly, sometimes a book is more character-driven, and a detailed account of their past in Brooklyn will help inform the protagonist’s reaction when their boyfriend decides to open up a bodega down the street. Cutting your book “down to the bone” and deleting that backstory, in this case, would lose the whole point!

In the end, it’s your book and your voice, and you’ve got to be true to it. Keep the prose clean and readable, of course, and you can always seek out an experienced editor for hire to make sure you’re not losing your message in an effort to be elegant. But so long and your words are compelling — to whatever target readership you’re aiming for — then you’re golden.

Thank you, Desiree! You rock!

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