Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Here’s a common question – who’s advice should writers take?

When I started writing, I soaked up how-to-write books by the dozen, but most didn’t make sense until after I discovered their truths through my own work. That’s why, when I wrote The Art of Romance Writing, I made it as clear and helpful as I could, putting into it everything I wish I’d known starting out. Staying in print since 1982 shows me it achieved my aim.

These days there’s more writing advice on and off line than anyone can absorb, and they often conflict. Write fast, 2,000 words a day minimum. Write slowly, polishing your work as you go. Start with characters. Start with plot. Write what you know. Or what you can find out.

There is some truth in all the advice, but not all the advice is true.


After writing more than five million words for publication, I can assure you that there’s no one way to write. There’s only what works for you. Be wary of anyone telling you theirs is THE way. The advice may work if it suits your style. You can write fast if it’s your natural inclination, but not otherwise. I’ve had as many books spring from characters as from plot. Often it’s a mix. Let’s face it, if there was “a formula” to writing, every writer would use it and be successful. But writing is more like fishing. Sometimes you catch nothing, sometimes you pull out that elusive best-seller. There’s no predicting which.

So here’s my list of sources whose advice may be helpful.
– An editor who asks to see a revised version of this work, or more of your future writing. They’re prepared to put their company’s money where their mouth is.
– A consensus saying much the same things. If several editors or critique partners suggest that your characters are shallow or your pacing slow in your body of work, you’d do well to look at these aspects carefully.
– People whose opinions you respect, such as successful writers, editors, those making a living from publishing (but not those making money from assessing work).
– Your own instincts. If you’ve written several drafts and find yourself back at an earlier draft, you may need to listen more closely to your inner voice, telling you when you’re on track.

What sources may be less than helpful to you?
– People with their own agenda. Either those making money from commenting on your work, or those who want you to write like them. I repeat: you can only write your work your way.
– The green-eyed monsters. When you get encouragement from an editor, win a contest or place highly, be prepared for others in your writing circle to say nice things, while giving you advice that comes from their own jealousy. It doesn’t make them bad people. Jealousy is all too human. But it does make them poor advisors.

So what advice have you given or found useful? Comment using the box below. Comments are moderated to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s novel, Birthright, at


Comments on: "First Monday mentoring for February – whose writing advice should you take?" (10)

  1. Something I believe one Valerie Parv told me once, years ago is the best advice I’ve ever received. When you think you’ve added enough emotion, go back and add some more.

  2. Among lots of advice I’ve received over the years, it’s the one that I “hear” as I’m writing. It echoes in my head, and I worry that it’s empty up there. Hehe. Well, except for the add more emotion advice.

  3. serenadorman said:

    This blog has a ton of wonderful advice. As an amateur I soak in everything I can, but my father gave me some great pointers such as having your characters tell some of the story or details with their dialogue to add interest. Thank you for taking the time to mentor us.

  4. elizabethellencarter said:

    One of my favourite pieces of advice came from CS Lewis – to be a good writer, read good writing.

    For me, I’ve extrapolated this into being *more* than a reader and I try to look at why a book resonated with me and examine the things I liked, the things I didn’t (often it’s a matter of personal preference) and to see how I can apply those things to my own writing.

    • Yes, indeed. I read twice, first for story then to analyze why the book works. How has the author worked their magic? Good advice and thanks for sharing.

  5. A lot of good points in here. I’ve found I keep going back to the three books that impressed me the most when I first started writing and discover that I get more and more out of the passages as I keep writing and making my own discoveries. The structural edit I got a year ago finally makes perfect sense so I can start revising my current novel, for example 🙂

  6. Thanks for this great post, Valerie (and I’ve taken the pearl of wisdom on board from laurahambywritingformysanity above). I love Anne Lamott’s words about finding your voice. That, if there’s one door in the castle you’ve been told not to go through, you must. I found this liberating. Cheers

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