The Customized Writer

Writers are not one-size-fits-all.

That can be the problem with getting writing advice from someone else. One person’s tried-and-true method is an unstustainable nightmare for another.

Many new writers think they’re “doing it wrong,” or there’s “something wrong with them,” if their chosen mentor’s writing advice doesn’t work for them.

Writing advice is an idea. A suggestion. Something to try. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t work for you, put it back in the pot and try something else.

Most writing advice has a nugget of truth in it, a sort of “moral of the story,” and as long as you keep this “moral” in mind, you’ll know both the reason the rule exists, and the times when you need to break it.

Write every day.

The “moral of the story” is to make writing a habit. Writing careers aren’t born of people who “wait for inspiration to strike” and only get around to actually writing a couple times a year. But every day? For some people, it works well to set aside an hour or two in the evening (or morning) every day to write; for me, getting home from 13 hours at work, I’m burned out. Staying awake to write yielded me 500 words of garbage, and too much fatigue to do well at the next day’s writing. I’ve done much better going straight to bed after a long day, getting up the next morning on a day off, and writing straight through to dinnertime. I get more done writing once in two days than I did when I tried to write every day.

I’m still writing regularly. I’ve still made writing a habit. But I’m not increasing my fatigue by writing on days when I’m sick, or exhausted from long workdays. Running myself into illness is not good for long-term productivity.

Finish what you start.

The “moral of the story” is that you can’t sell unfinished works, and generally speaking, this advice is sound. The writer who’s got 40 partially completed stories on his hard drive, but never submitted anything last year because nothing was done, isn’t learning his craft.

But on the flip side, I know writers who’ve sunk years into struggling to fix a novel that wasn’t working. If you know you’ll be better off cutting your losses and starting on something new, don’t keep running at the brick wall because a piece of advice makes you feel that you should/must. Those writers would’ve done a lot better accepting that their first novel was a “trial run” and taking what they’ve learned into a new creation.

My first attempt at a novel reached 100,000 words. At that point, I was ready to begin Chapter One.

The lesson I learned? I didn’t have a novel. I had five protagonists, six plot lines, and three separate series. I had laid so much ground just establishing the characters, conflicts and setting that I’d run out of book for them to do anything in.

Almost all of the characters and plots in that novel have been “harvested” and used in past and current projects – but not all at once. That first attempt taught me a lot about writing a tight story arc and focusing a book on one or two main characters. And I’ve gotten a lot farther using those lessons and re-using those characters and plots than I would have if I were still trying to write my original vision of an epic space opera…and find a market for it.

Get up early each morning and write.

I am the opposite of a morning person. It takes me a couple hours to wake up enough to not stumble into things, let alone develop the dexterity to type. There’s no way I’m going to be at my best if I: get up at 2 am…wait a couple hours to become alert enough to type…start writing at 4 am…be out the door to work at 6. On this schedule, I’d have to be going to sleep before leaving work if I wanted 8 hours of rest.

If you’re at your best first thing in the morning–then get up each morning and write! For me, I can produce better work in one hour in the midafternoon than in two in the early morning…and I feel healthier besides.

The “moral of the story” is that the best writing time is when you’re at your most alert and when you’ve got some privacy to focus on your writing. Find that at the time of day that works for you.

 

By all means, look to your favourite writers to find out what they do. You might find a new method that boosts your productivity, or an idea you hadn’t thought of before. But if that tip isn’t working, it’s time to think about why that person uses that tip, and whether there’s a way to adapt it that makes more sense for you. There is no one way to be a writer. You need to find the way for you to be a writer–the method that works for your unique needs and style.

2 responses on “The Customized Writer

  1. Jon

    Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! I needed this blog very badly, thank you for writing this. It might seem like common sense to some but for people like me who hear these “rules” constantly, as though they are written in stone, it was really new. In many creative ventures such as photography, songwriting, or other creative works some form of these rules almost always surfaces. Being a creative person who gets my most effective work done in binges that occur between 7pm and 4am on random days, this has often left me extremely discouraged. As though, even if I produce something, doing it outside of these rules would render it value-less. This blog gave me the shake-up I needed and encouragement to keep pursuing my current methods rather than constantly trying to do something unnatural. Thank you!!!

  2. Glynis Jolly

    I have yet to finish a novel to the point where it’s ready for a professional editor. I subscribe to more than 25 blogs that give advice on the craft. Still, I find myself not even taking “nuggets” of the advice I read, more like pieces of sand instead, and writing in the manner I have done since I was in elementary school.

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