April 14th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Theme Week:  Best and Worst Writing Advice I’ve Ever Been Given

Howdy Folks and Happy Saturday!

It’s theme week here at Genreality and the topic is…best and worst writing advice ever given.  (You may want to read this is post in conjunction with my earlier post on giving and getting advice.)

I’ve been given a lot of good writing advice over the years.  And not much bad.  So I thought that today, I’d just list some of it.

1.  Take the typing class (from my Mom when I was 15 years old and handwriting my stories.)

2.  Heinlein’s Rules  — all of them in their various interpretations (I think from John Pitts or Patrick Swenson initially, around 1997 or 1998.)

3.  Read poetry and essays (from Bradbury’s essay “How to Keep and Feed a Muse,” first read around 1982)

4.  Read your work aloud alone before you do it in front of a group (learned the hard way during my infamous “Seaman erupted from the underbrush” incident while reading “A Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes” with nods to Harold Gross for bringing it to my attention afterwards with great hilarity back in 2005 and at least annually thereafter through his re-tellings.)

5.  Go write a novel in this world with these characters  (from Shawna McCarthy on her rejection slip for the second short story in my Androfrancine Cycle in Fall 2006 — this advice along with advice from Sean  Wallace and the advice/dare from Jay Lake and my wife Jen led to me cranking out Lamentation on a six week binge.

6.  It doesn’t have to be good, it has to be done AND you’re willing to practice your guitar, now go practice your novel (from Dean Wesley Smith over lunch at the Hilltop in Lincoln City, OR, in 2005.)

7.  You need more strong female characters (from Jen after reading the first half of Lamentation in September 2006 this led to the creation of Winters, Meirov of Pylos and later, Ria, Mother Elsbet and others in the Psalms of Isaak.)

8.  Shut the F@ck up and Write! (co-invented and used as a frequent mutually motivational shout between me and John Pitts.   I still want this embroidered Grandma-style, framed and hung over my computer.  Uncensored, of course, like Grandma would want it.)

9.  If you want to fix the problems in your writing life, fix the problems in your personal life (from Kristine Kathryn Rusch at an anthology workshop in 2008.)

10.  Don’t be a jerk  — people remember when your’e a jerk (from Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at my Writers of the Future workshop in 2005.)

I could put down a LOT more good advice.  I’ve been give a ton of it.  And for worst advice, I think I’ll fall back to an event in 2007, the weekend that Tor was spiriting me around the Saratoga World Fantasy Convention, introducing me to writers I’d never met before — members of our pantheon — and announcing the five book series.  This advice shook me up hard enough that I called Jen in tears (aided, I’m sure by the introverted con-exhaustion and wild, emotional book deal ride that I was in the midst of).

A well-meaning person — very well placed in the industry — pulled me aside.  We’d met before in passing but I don’t know that he remembered me.  And I think the advice he meant to give was actually pretty good:   “Don’t let success change you from a nice guy to a rotten guy.”  But his delivery gets points for being the worst ever.  He introduced himself to me and said he wanted to shake my hand now because (and I quote) “in a few years you’re going to be such a prick that no one will want to.”  Later, in talking with mutual friends, I learned that indeed this was a delivery fail and said person probably intended it as his version of “Don’t be a jerk.”

But the way he went about it was tough on my Trailer Boy psyche.  Still, four years later, folks still want to shake my hand.  So I figure I’m doing just fine.

I’m not sure what we’re going to be up to next week.  But I’m sure it’ll be fun.

Until then, Trailer Boy out.

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2 comments to “Theme Week: Best and Worst Writing Advice I’ve Ever Been Given”

  1. Suzan Harden
     · April 14th, 2012 at 2:39 pm · Link

    Ten perfect points, Ken. And yes, No. 8 definitely needs to be embroidered and on your wall. Mine too.

  2. A. McKay
     · April 15th, 2012 at 10:54 am · Link

    😈 I use #8 also but included the inner thoughts too in that phrase.

    i got a question though about strong women in a story. I know you don’t want to read about the silent, afraid girl but can you make the female character too strong, too overpowering?

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