Saturday, April 28, 2012

My best writing advice - with a diagram!!

What a wealth of great writing advice I’ve been finding here this week. I love seeing all this and reading through it. 

 And naturally, I have some advice - what writer doesn’t? Hell, I’ve got more than advice, I’ve got a freaking diagram!

I think there are two dispositions writers can fall into. It’s kind of a spectrum. On one side is “Please affirm my talent and love me.” On the other side is, let’s say, “I’m a fierce learning and growing machine.”

I personally believe every writer travels up and down this spectrum. My best advice is to try and stay out of the “Please Affirm My Talent and Love Me” and be in the "I'm a Fierce Learning and Growing Machine" zone. 

Easier said than done!

I think most writers, including myself, struggle in the middle. Because, of course all writers want praise, and every human being wants love—every writer is pulled toward the Love Me! zone, but you can’t grow and evolve if you’re too far over on that side. It’s a constant battle to keep out of there.

For example, with a newer writer stuck in the “Love Me!” zone, if you point out a problem, they’ll explain why they did what they did, so that you understand and see that they aren’t idiots, but it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.

The "Learning Machine" writer doesn’t bother to explain—you have given her something she can use. The learning machine writer thinks, hmm, I see that at least one reader didn’t get this thing. Do I need to dumb it down? Lead a paragraph with it so it’s more prominent? Repeat it? Is this an anomaly or a theme with other commenters? “Take what you can use and discard the rest,” as Bruce Lee used to say.

“Please Love Me” keeps a writer in a place of safety that feels good—in fact, that is the goal of being on that end, safety and and even financial safety, though ironically, it keeps a writer from improving. On the other hand, the Learning Machine side is about taking risks and being okay with failure and trying new things and having people point out things that are flopping. 

I think wildly successful writers can fall into “Love Me” as easily as newbies. I think they can fall back on the shtick that has worked in the past, to kind of calcify into a mode, especially when locked into a long series. But when I look at someone like Kresley Cole, she evolves as a writer even within her series. I feel she is a writer who is on the Learning and Growiing Machine end. 

And of course, minor midlist authors like me can get into that calcification. I was thinking about this whole thing the other day - I was editing and there was this scene I was totally proud of, and it had this Carolyn Crane shtick that I knew would work well, a kind of quirky line of thinking from the heroine that got a laugh—in my mind, anyhow—and I realized the success of the humorous turn was keeping me from digging into the reality of the scene, and more than that, digging deeper would be far less comfortable  for me emotionally in a way I won’t go into. But I cut out the funny and went where I haven’t gone before, and I feel like it was really important for the book.

In a way I'm talking about staying near the edge of my work, the way an actor does. Sometimes I think staying near the edge is about creative innovation, but sometimes it’s about emotions. Like, where is my edge emotionally? Where do I not want to go?  

I have three projects going right now, and one is very much about making money (because I’m super pov right now!) but I still feel I’m finding my edge with it, going places that are daring for me personally (though they might not be daring for others.)

And as I type all this, I’m like, am I really going to post this? I sound like, all, artiste! But, oh well! 

Being in that good zone looks different for different writers. For me, being in the learning and growing zone means everyday writing, and guarding those precious hours and being okay with shitty days of writing. 

And also, it means close reading of the work of authors I admire—looking at how they construct their turns and scenes, even copying out their passages to get a feel for how they’re building. I’m not going to worry other authors will affect my style. Hell, everything affects my style! Music, TV shows, books—in my mind, that’s what growing and evolving is all about, things affecting me. 

This all really is my best advice. My personal goal is to fight to be on the learning and growing side of the equation as much possible. To be always a student instead of gunning for praise.

Most important of all, when you’re on the  “Please Affirm My Talent and Love Me” side, your happiness is in somebody else’s hands, and when you’re on the learning side, your happiness is in your own damn hands!! 


  1. I don't need everyone to love me and I've certainly spent my time in the learning machine zone, but right now, I'd like to get out of the 'hey, will you at least like me enough to read this?' part of the spectrum. ;o)

  2. I adore the diagram! And I love the breakdown of 'please love me' versus 'hanging out on the edge'. I have no clue who it was who said 'do one thing a day that scares you' - but it was something we heard over and over again in acting school (and no, no one was talking about walking through the rough parts of town...) How interesting. I think your diagram explains the difference between my first book and my second. Book 1 was all out there on the edge - it was emotionally discomfitting. Book 2 was all about being safe! Reproducing the magic - and please, dear Gods, let the editor love this story as much as the first one. Huh. I'd not realized before now that I'd falled head first into the diagram's extremes.