Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I drill down into the reality of being a writer This month’s question comes from a new writer. Confused by the conflicting information available, he asked what writing advice he should take.
First let’s look at a fraction of what’s out there. Start with character. Start with plot. Start with a brilliant idea. Don’t kill the cat. Write from the heart. Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Write what you can imagine.
Write five hundred words every day. Or a thousand. Or five thousand. Don’t preach to readers. Write a morality tale disguised. Start with a theme. Discover your theme as you write. Use the hero’s journey, bullet points, clustering, brainstorming or whatever else is on trend.
The truth is, they are all wrong for some writers. They are also totally right for some writers. The only way to know is to try them. And even that is moot. According to Yoda, the wizened green sage from Star Wars, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
Of course Yoda never said that. He’s a made-up character (spoiler, sorry).Yoda’s wisdom comes from Star Wars creator, George Lucas and screenwriter. Lawrence Kasdan, although Kasdan was credited with that specific line here http://tinyurl.com/y2rr94co. Given the years they put into the writing, I wonder if Lucas or Kasdan would still say there is no try, even though it’s quoted everywhere.
More interesting to me is Kasdan’s observation from the same interview:
“I’ve always felt that genre is a vessel into which you put your story…”If you want to make a western, you can tell any story in the world in a western, you know? It can be about family, betrayal, revenge, the opening up of the country…Those stories never get old, because they are issues everybody faces every day. Who do you trust? What are the temptations in your life?
Even when you get to be my age, you’re still trying to figure that out… What am I, what am I about, have [I] fulfilled my potential, and, if not, is there still time? That’s what the Star Wars saga is about.”
If you were free to choose the vessel that fits your work best, would some of the writing advice suddenly make sense? Could your story work best in the “vessel” of a romance, a fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, historical?
To me writing has always been a mix of good ideas, good writing and good timing. How many great books were rejected then published to huge acclaim when the market was ready?
When I mentor each year’s winner of the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia, I give what guidance I can then advise the writer to use what they like of my suggestions and discard the rest. To me the author is always the final arbiter of their own work even if the market needs time to catch up.
Then, like Lawrence Kasdan’s comments, there’s advice that make so much sense, it becomes a meme on social media. One such is Nora Roberts’s maxim that you can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page. In other words, write something, anything. Most writing is rewriting anyway. You write what Nora calls a “dirty draft” you can trim, add and edit to reach a semblance of your story vision.
Accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect story. Humans are by nature imperfect. How can our stories be any different? I’ll leave you with two quotes from acclaimed Chilean writer, the late Isabel Allende –
– Don’t be paralysed by the idea that you’re writing a book. Just write.
– Show up and be patient. I can hit my head against the wall because [the writing’s] not happening. But just keep going. Keep going and it happens.
How do you keep the writing going? What advice speaks to you? Share your thoughts in the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. Your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Keep writing. Keep writing.
Appearing at Romance Writers of Australia’s
National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm
With my agent Linda Tate we’re presenting
“Getting back the joy of writing”