Friday, May 6, 2011

Writing Advice - Even Better with a Grain of Salt

I encountered one of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received quite early on in my "career."  When I was still in my teens I read a book called "the Novel from Plot to Print" by Robert Bloch.  He talked about when he had started out as a novelist, and a book he had read to learn how to write a novel.  This book apparently told him to fill out an endless array of index cards with details about characters, locations, and scenes.  He realized intuitively that this was the wrong approach for him, and he wrote his first novel without sullying a single index card, but he felt vaguely guilty the whole time for not doing what he was "supposed" to do.

Reading writing advice is like birdwatching.  You encounter wondrous variety and apparent contradictions.  Birds that run.  Birds that swim.  Birds with camouflage and birds with plumage bright enough to hurt your eyes.  You learn quickly that it is difficult to make generalisations.

The key point that I got from Robert Bloch is that every writer has his own method, and you must do what works for you.  There is a vast amount of excellent writing advice out there, and you can learn a tremendous amount.  Always take it with a grain of salt.  Never believe a writer who uses words like "always" and "never."  Except for me, of course.

There are some fundamental pieces of advice that you will hear over and over again, and which you should probably heed.  You should read a lot.  You should write a lot.  You should do a lot of rewriting. 

Not everyone follows that last piece of advice.  Robert Heinlein, a truly awesome science-fiction writer, wrote some "commandments" for new writers.  One of them is "Thou shalt not rewrite."  Apparently that worked for him.  In the audio book of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury talks about meeting Robert Heinlein and confessing to him that he does very little revising.  Apparently Bradbury did only minor line edits.  Heinlein's comment was, "Why don't you write it correctly the first time?"

You are not Robert Heinlein.  You're not even Ray Bradbury.  If you're not a legend in your own time, you can safely assume that you will need to do plenty of revising.

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