Saturday, July 5, 2014

Helpful Article on Writing

Once upon a time we used to write a lot of posts about actual writing.  That was actually kind of the intent of the blog in general, although we meandered off on a lot of often fun sidetracks.  It's been a very long time since we discussed writing in and of itself, but I just came across this article that I thought had some simple but also very useful tips on writing.  I'll link it here rather than copying and pasting, but it is six tips on writing from John Steinbeck.  Push, especially, I thought of you quite a bit when reading some of these.  One tip in particular talks about moving on from a particular scene that is giving you trouble, which is something I've told her to do on occasion.  It doesn't do you any good to spend all of your time hung up on one scene and never getting anywhere, especially when you have a clear idea of what the rest will look like. 

Where have you gotten your best advice on writing?  Do you try to make yourselves better or do you just write and not worry about it?  Personally, I always want it to be better.  Sadly this often means I'll go back and cringe at older things I've written, but it can also inspire you to do better and figure out how not to make the same mistakes.  I do wonder though if for some there is just a natural gift for words that cannot be taught or learned.  And then there is the fact that some people have their own distinct style of writing.  For me, if I wasn't trying to be better at it, I'd just write for myself and not share it with other people.  Although it's difficult to be a story teller without an audience.

Anyway, hopefully you got some good tips in there and I'd be interested to hear if others read about writing or study it at all or if you just go out and write and don't care what anyone thinks.


  1. Interesting tips from Steinbeck. Thanks for the link, Zyra.

    Number 2, "Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down," is the hardest for me to adhere to. I enjoy the editing process so much more than getting that first draft out, and as a result I'm constantly going back to fix things along the way, obviously as a way to avoid writing. Because I write only as a hobby, with no real time constraints, I haven't been strict with myself on this point. But if I wrote for a living I'm aware that it's something I'd absolutely need to overcome.

    Number 6, about saying your dialogue aloud as you write it, is one I discovered on my own many years ago and which I do constantly. Constantly! I highly recommend it. I've read so many Han/Leia fics which, in spite of cool plot ideas, are just unreadable to me because Han and Leia don't talk anything like their characters do in the movies. It's one of my biggest pet peeves in SW fanfic, and one I work very hard to avoid. As the guy famously said, "you can type this shit, but you can't say it." And if I can't realistically hear the characters saying the dialogue I've typed for them, then it needs to be rewritten.

    Number 4, about bypassing a scene that you're stuck on, is another great bit of advice that took me a long time to accept but that I try to do on a regular basis now.

    I'd never heard Number 1, to "abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish", and "then when it gets finished, you are always surprised." But I've experienced it, and that's a really cool way to express it. When writing a longer fic, especially, it's easy for me to get overwhelmed with thoughts that "I have so much more to hash out and the story's a complete mess right now and how am I going to integrate these critical plot points," etc. Those kind of thoughts are demoralizing and have led me to shelve stories that probably had potential. I do much better, I've learned, when I just plug away a little section at a time only to discover, one day, that the story is done. It often really does catch me by surprise when I use that approach.

    Where have I gotten my best advice on writing? Honestly, I try to read a variety of fiction with a critical eye out for what makes this or that particularly good or bad, and in the case of bad, how it might have been improved. I haven't read that much "how to write" material, though I recently came across this article ( which I thought was interesting.

    Do I try to make myself a better writer? Yes. And, like Zyra, it does make me cringe when I read my older work (stuff that I had been so proud of at the time!). But I tell myself that this is a good sign.

    Would I still write if I didn't have an audience? Probably not. Writing, for me at least, is a lot of work, possibly the most challenging hobby I've tackled after learning a musical instrument. As a young teen I imagined stories in my head (I remember, long before the days of online fanfic, realizing with great delight that the trip to Bespin had to last about as long as Luke's training on Dagobah, and filling in those missing days in my imagination) but I never bothered writing any of them down because there was nobody to read them; much faster and easier to simply imagine and play out the scenario in my mind than to go to the trouble of writing it all out. So it's definitely that hope of sharing my story with an audience that gets me struggling to express it in writing. But the genesis of the story is always ultimately for me; I make up scenarios that I think were overlooked and that I personally would like to see.

    Sabacc Gal

  2. Number 2 is also the hardest for me, both in fic writing and professional writing. I'm definitely a person who edits as I go, often to my chagrin. I don't worry about it that much, but doing a thorough read through could have saved me a lot of embarrassment later. I've gotten to where I can read an article or conference paper all the way through and spot errors and awkwardness, but they tend to be short. I never read all the way through my dissertation at one sitting but it was 236 pages long. Fic, I really don't have a convenient excuse for not doing it, and while it's helpful to find structural errors, I have learned that I can be also way way way off on characterization. I am grateful for those who have taken the time and trouble to point out where I'm off.

    I love Steinbeck's #1: I never imagine being finished with anything. It's all along the continuum. I'll never finish my research. Same with fiction. You write a story, you write chapters, but it's never the last word on the subject.

    I like the idea of tossing out a troublesome scene. It's the same in research; you'll try to make an association and figure out that at best, it's weak, so it gets shoved out. What I find is, if the scene was troublesome, I might get rid of it this time around, but might find it useful in another setting.

    As for an audience, not everyone likes every topic. I don't worry about it. I'm way too old to sweat it.

    I have yet to find a scene that I've needed to hang on to. I think it comes out of repeated warnings of never falling in love with your hypothesis.

    I'm not sure which of you lovelies said it, and I apologize for that, but the advice to write the story you want to read was invaluable.

    And happy birthday to all the Cancers here, who've provided me with some wonderful reading material!

  3. I'm glad a couple of you so far found this useful. I thought it was a good list because while there is obviously way more to it, this to start with was pretty concise and yet still gives you a lot to think about without feeling overwhelming.

    Sabaccgal, I agree that even though I'd never heard "abandon the idea that you're going to finish" it is advice I could certainly stand to take. That is my biggest problem when it comes to the idea of writing long stories. Have any of you ever read a long story by me? That's because I've never written one. I have a couple of premises that COULD be long stories, or at least relatively long ones, but the thought of writing it all out is overwhelming to me, so I've never gotten past writing the idea of it and maybe a scene or two. I don't necessarily think I've written in the past knowing the ending of the story, but then my stories tend to almost be more like scenes than anything, so an "end" isn't a big deal.

    I do make sure to edit. Honestly, it's been so long since I've written anything I can't even remember whether I edit as I go along or if I wait a while and then go back. Probably more scene by scene or chapter by chapter. I do make a point of editing though before publishing anything. If I am expecting my audience to take the time to read and maybe even review something I've written, I'm going to make sure that I take the time to edit it and make it as good as I can personally make it. It's frustrating to read something that you can just tell was rushed and not read through. It's at best distracting and at worst makes me just stop reading the story entirely.

    I love writing Han and Leia dialogue. I have never been in the habit of saying it out loud, but I do make a point of seeing if I can "hear" them saying it in my head. I do hope we get some cool Han and Leia banter in Episode VII :)

  4. Zyra, speaking for myself, I find exercises such as this very useful, regardless of what realm I'm writing in. (I just finished writing a white paper for Mr. Stats. He hates writing and I love it.) I'd never written one before and it was an interesting experience to take something and make it sound technical but not be terribly technical.

    I would love to see you write some long form fic. I'm sure it would be an outstanding story. But don't get caught up in worrying about the number of chapters. Let the story grow organically; the characters will tell you what they want you to say.

  5. Happy Birthday to Mr. Ford. 72 and still fun to look at.

  6. Yikes! If I couldn't edit while I wrote, I'd probably never finish anything. I like to shape the story as I go, kind of the way I like to clean up along the way when I prepare dinner. I could never enjoy the finished product if I had to look at all of that mess.

    One thing that has helped me a lot with overcoming writer's block is to shift between styles of writing. If I am stuck in fiction, working on poetry or writing an essay on something unrelated can help get me moving again. The brevity of haiku and scifaiku, I think, has helped me to see extraneous verbiage in the longer fiction that I write.

    Nice to see you here. I've enjoyed reading your Han & Leia stories on

  7. Well, darn, I had a nice little smiley and friendly wave at the end of that post, but Blogger seems to have stripped it off. (And now I can't even add a frowny face to express my disapproval ... grumble, grumble)