Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#1
So first off, I’m not a traditionally publishes writer. I’m not making tons of money indie publishing (haven’t even put anything up for sale yet), and I’m not popular here on Royal Road. However, that being said, I recently got a Silver Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, fourth quarter under the name Waraji-sama. Now, if you’re not aware of this contest, it’s the largest one—in the world. A Silver Honorable Mention was considered top fifty, but the contest has been growing so large recently, this quarter Silvers were within the top one hundred places out of thousands of entrants. I’ve previously gotten two other Honorable Mentions in the contest, though not Silvers. But they’re still shortlist awards.
 
Kevin J. Anderson, a judge in the contest, says this is a pretty big deal. He has over fifty best sellers under his belt. He’s a big name fantasy and sci fi writer, and an awesome guy. We’ve exchanged emails on several occasions and he even sent me one of his outlines upon request! A normal Honorable Mention, if told to an agent or editor, will get you out of their slush pile and on their “read immediately list.”
 
I don’t say these things to brag. I just want you to know where I’m coming from so that when I tell you things about my writing journey, a journey shared by others, actually, that you know there’s at least some level of credence here.
 
But a note of warning as well. I’m not claiming that the way I do things is the best way or the only way. Every person approaches things their way, but just make sure that the way you do things is the way you want, and not some way that “accepted wisdom” on writing has dictated.
 
Also, this will not be a point by point “guide” in that sense, but rather an essay. If you take something away, great. If not, maybe you’ve been exposed to a different way of doing things that might get you thinking in new ways.
 
I tend to say things as if they’re mere facts, but don’t let that get under your skin—it’s just my communication style. I often get accused of arrogance for this, but it’s a habit I can’t seem to knock, so I apologize in advance.
 
Another thing before I start. I find the writing community here on Royal Road to be a great one. I’ve noticed a distinct lack of “know-it-all” types on here. In fact, there’s so many writers on here banging out chapters every few days for months or years on end, that these people are in fact “writers.” There’s so many arrogant know-it-all types on writing forums that have thousands of posts under their belts, and yet they’ve written one book in their whole lives, and give writing advice as if they’re giving you pure gold from their vast trove of writerly wisdom. It’s why I left those communities.
 
Now let’s get to the point.
 
I want to start off by saying that I used to repeat to myself like a mantra, “Writing is rewriting.” I think Hemmingway said that. Of course, he said a lot of crazy stuff. I think he said one thing about standing up while writing was best, because writing energy came from the groin.
 
It’s not unknown that the guy’s career ended in full blown alcoholism, depression and eventual suicide, so let’s take some of the things “the greats” said with a grain of salt.
 
I mean, right?
 
I almost convinced myself that I really liked rewriting. But no. I hate it. It makes me hate the story I’m working on. It makes me hate writing.
 
I used to think I was lazy. I would write a book, sort of “revise it a bit” but I knew I wasn’t really doing a great job of rewriting, because, well, all that work. So instead, I took note of what I thought I needed to improve on, and then I would try not to make those mistakes with my next writing project.
I can’t say I’ve written a whole lot, not compared to some of the writers here who have millions of words under their belts. I’m very impressed by these folks. But, because I didn’t spend time reworking text over and over, I was able to get an idea of where my weaknesses were, and to improve on those in my later writings. I’m still doing this, and I suspect, this will never stop. I believe story-telling is a life-long learning process that really never ends.
 
That’s the point I wanted to make in this essay, that you don’t need to necessarily write and rewrite over and over. In fact, I believe that doing this only marginally improves the written work, if at all and if it’s already not that great, why spend all that effort making it just a little better? Just write the next story and do better based on the things you’ve learned from your experience, and hopefully, your reading of writers who are far above your level. We all learn from each other.
 
Redrafting is another matter. I’ve completely lopped off the end of several of my stories and wrote fresh words from the memory of the previous ending, and that does in fact work quite well in my experience.
 
Another matter…
 
It’s key, and absolutely key, that you avoid bad advice. There’s troves of bad advice all over the place concerning the writing craft. My favorite piece of writerly advice comes from the wildly successful Lee Child. It’s somewhat ironic, and goes like this, “Ignore all advice.” You are the writer, and if you decide there’s something lacking, then improve on it. Others can help you become aware of that, but be leery about taking the advice of others if you’re not entirely sure.
 
Remember, writing stories is an art form an without some imperfections, art is no longer art, but some machine-produced dross that, though may look nice upon first viewing, is actually quite stale and boring.
 
Now a story about some really bad advice I got in the past, and the cheeky (I’m not British) thing I did in response.
 
I used to be on Absolutewrite. It’s the largest writing forum on the internet. I put some of my chapters up from my first novel for critique, and I got a lot of feedback. I was curious about some of the feedback, and wanted deeper explanations, but when I asked, the responses were terse, rude, and generally I was treated like I was inferior to the people giving advice—like they were the masters and I was the student.
 
Now, most new writers might just accept that. But I had read nearly fifty books on writing the previous year. That’s what I did before writing my first novel. I devoured books on writing fiction by big name authors, so I had a little bit of know how when I started, and I knew I was getting some bad advice.
 
But I needed to test this theory. So I took a chapter from The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. At the time, it was #14 on the NY Times Bestseller list. I changed all the character and place names, and put it up for critique. I asked people to be honest.
 
Well the answers I got were interesting…
 
One person said that I needed to learn grammar before posting. Owe. Two or three more said they were bored three paragraphs in and couldn’t be bothered to continue. Pretty harsh, huh? To the community’s credit, there were a couple people who went line-by-line giving me comments and editing suggestions about all these things I could change, to make the writing better, more engaging, etc, etc. They put in a lot of work. But still, do you see where I’m getting at?
 
Nobody can really tell you what’s wrong with your fiction. I was banned permanently from AW by the way. Never regretted it, never looked back. That place is a pit of toxicity and the death of many would be writers.
 
“Ignore all advice.”
 
I once watched a pretty good writer, become completely unable to write anything without questioning everything, due to “writing advice.” It really can kill your confidence and creative as fast as you can snap your fingers, so be extremely careful about all this “advice” as you improve.
 
I’ve personally read hundreds of things that were, just okay. And that’s okay. I enjoyed them while I was reading, and though I might not look for those writers to gobble up everything they’ve ever written, I still gave my precious time to read their work.
 
The truth is, the great writers of literature who have written those classic stories that have endured for decades or centuries—the truth is, they have large bodies of work, and one or two or three of their stories, out of all those things they wrote over their lifetime, became excellent pieces of work.
 
So when you write, always strive to do your best, but don’t expect to be putting down pure gold, or not writing because you need that perfect idea that everyone will love. If it happens, great, but love writing for writing’s sake, not because you’re going to be a star with this next thing you’re writing.
 
Write a lot, eventually something awesome will come out of you. Trust yourself, and your ability. Always be improving, and remember, we improve by writing new things, not by failing to write and spending all our time fussing with something that’s already not that great to begin with.
 
Keep it fun!
 
* * *

 

Now a few quotes on writing that I really like! Hopefully you’ll enjoy them. They may give you inspiration or even aid your writing journey. I know they’ve helped me tremendously!
 
“To the distraction of many writers all I do is start typing. I make it up as I go. I write everything in the order it appears in the book. I don’t keep notes and I don’t revise unless prompted to do so by my editor.”—Mark Lawrence
 
“I especially during the Sand Man years, I would worry and think and obsessively ask myself questions about what is the story? What is the story? I’m making these things—the how I feed myself, the how I feed by family, the how I pay my rent. What is the story? And Eventually what I decided was the story is anything fictional that keeps you turning the pages… and doesn’t leave you feeling cheated at the end. That was my definition.”—Neil Gaiman
 
“The ordinary writer is bound to be assailed by insecurities as he writes. Is the sentence he has just created a sensible one? Is it expressed as well as it might be? Would it sound better if it were written differently? The ordinary writer is always revising, always chopping, and changing, always trying on different ways of expressing himself, and, for all I know, never being entirely satisfied. That is certainly no way to be prolific.”—Isaac Asimov
 
“A prolific writer, therefore, has to have self-assurance. He can’t sit around doubting the quality of his writing. Rather, he has to love his own writing… If I didn’t enjoy my writing so much, how on earth could I stand all the writing I do?”—Isaac Asimov
 
“…muses are more fickle than the average woman. They tease and run away. What you have to do is say, ‘I'm not going to chase after her, and I'm not going to wait for her to come back. I'm going to sit down here and do some bloody work, until she gets back,’ and if she doesn't get back, you know... ‘damn, I've done a lot of pages, haven't I?’ While waiting for her, you work. Writing is work, more than anything else. If you have the ability, you can do it well. It is a craft. It's like building cabinets, or building furniture.”Robert Jordan
 
“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not ‘inspired.”—Neil Gaiman
 
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”—Ray Bradbury
 
“… And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”—Neil Gaiman
 
“I learned a lot from the comments of other writers. And that learning I applied to the NEXT STORY. But never once did I use the comments to ‘fix’ a story because, to be honest, I didn’t want a collaborator on any of my work.”Dean Wesley Smith
 
“Entertain yourself for a while, and when you’re done entertaining yourself, mail it to an editor or indie publish it so that you can entertain other people with it, and if nobody buys it, who cares? Write another story! That’s the key. Believe in your art.”—Dean Wesley Smith
 
“The last editorial meeting I had was with a 24 year-old Vassar grad who tried to explain to me (after I had been selling novels longer than she had been alive) how to write a book. I kept my cool and was nice to the human, but as Kris and I walked down the sidewalk after that meeting, I remember my only words were ‘I’m done with this shit.’”Dean Wesley Smith
 
“Dean,

I remember when I first heard you speak about rewriting. I thought you were batshit crazy … but not crazy enough to ignore. I stayed with you, read what you had to say, but wasn’t 100% convinced. But I am now. What made me get on the no-rewriting wagon?

To be honest, it was something I heard Orson Scott Card say. He said there is only one “living draft” (his words), and that’s the first draft. You might have to throw away three or four or five incomplete first attempts to arrive at the one and only living draft, but arrive you must. (He said he once — and only once — threw away 400 pages of a 500 page novel because he thought of a better ending which required him to re-vision the first 4/5ths of the story!!!!!) There can be no rewriting, he added, because rewriting is the death of the living draft. The first draft is the only living draft because the first draft is the purest expression of your voice and your story. When you start tinkering with a first draft (beyond basic edits), you start killing what makes the story yours.

So far, he sounded like you. But then he added the magic words: he explained why this was true.

When you write a story, he said, you are putting the vision in your head on paper. But when you rewrite, you are trying to put a new vision on paper. The problem is that the words you used to create the first vision cannot be reused to create the second vision. To create the second vision — which is a NEW vision of your story — you need NEW words. Therefore, he said, true “revision” — that is, seeing your story anew, re-visioning it — necessitates new words. So you throw away the old vision with the old words — get rid of it entirely, and never look at it again — and you start over, on page one, with new words, because the goal is to capture the new vision. If you get a new vision for your story, you MUST get new words, too. He said that until you accept this, you can never become a professional writer.

WOW, I thought. That makes a hullava lot of sense. And it reminded me not only of all your talk about the rewriting myth, but about something else I heard you say — that professional writers aren’t afraid to throwaway their words.

Since then, I haven’t looked back.”Unknown Commenter (I remember reading Card’s explanation of this years ago, but I couldn’t find it again, and at the time, it went straight over my head.)
 
“You see, as an editor I’m looking for stories that have some originality, that carry an author’s own voice, his odd quirks. But when a new writer begins showing a manuscript around to members of her workshop and polishing it further and further, eventually the author tends to lose her own distinct voice. The result is, that the story can become less interesting to me as an editor with every draft.”David Farland
 
“In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”Robert E. Howard
 
“The best advice is to ignore all advice.”Lea Child
 
“I’m convinced if I keep going one day I will write something decent. On very bad days I will observe that I must have written good things in the past, which means that I’ve lost it. But normally I just assume that I don’t have it. The gulf between the thing I set out to make in my head and the sad, lumpy thing that emerges into reality is huge and distant and I just wish that I could get them closer.”—Neil Gaiman
 
And to cap it all off, some writing advice by a now deceased master of the craft that flies straight into the face of generally accepted wisdom on writing fiction! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mqEjCSNAzc
 
 
 

 




Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#3
First off, congrats on making the shortlist! That's a hell of an accomplishment. And thank you for sharing your experiences with us here. I definitely agree with the "ignore all advice," bit, since with art it always feels like no one really quite knows what they're doing until they've done it, hah.

I personally amend that a little bit and go with "know what advice to take," or be able to discern the helpful feedback. Everyone's got some kind of agenda, but if you study truly helpful feedback you can usually find something helpful. Or not. Who the hell knows. Do what works, right?

Anywho! I hope the next time you enter the competition you win! Looks like you're already headed that way.

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#4
Being a bit of a pedant, and someone who has found merit in the simple act of criticisms positively given, I would amend "ignore all advice" to "ignore all unsatisfactorily justified advice" - alternatively, maybe a retooling of Sturgeon's law: "most of the feedback you receive shouldn't change your style."

EDIT: regardless, the paradox of taking this advice of ignoring all advice comes from someone with pretty impressive bona fides, so you've gotten me at least furiously to think.

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#6
@NovelNinja



Thanks! I have another story in the comp due for results in March. Fingers crossed.



With my novel Wakiagaru, I tried a lot of different things. I even dictated two scenes. It's pretty weird, really. But man is it fast. I could dictate a scene and replay it back to myself while transcribing in less time than writing by keyboard. But it was weird. I felt off, and awkward. I bet it takes time to get used to.


@ ElliottStaud

Totally agree with you on that. I think where newer writers go wrong is in trusting others, when they really shouldn't be, lol.

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#9
Congrats on all of your achievements; you should be proud. Your hard work really paid off and it's amazing. I don't think you came off as arrogant. You were simply telling your perspective and experiences; I just happen to agree. My fear of sharing my own writing stems back to my parents and teachers telling me that I was a horrible writer, due to grammar, so I can relate to other people who have the same fear. I loved how you said this part:

"The truth is, the great writers of literature who have written those classic stories that have endured for decades or centuries—the truth is, they have large bodies of work, and one or two or three of their stories, out of all those things they wrote over their lifetime, became excellent pieces of work.
 
So when you write, always strive to do your best, but don’t expect to be putting down pure gold, or not writing because you need that perfect idea that everyone will love. If it happens, great, but love writing for writing’s sake, not because you’re going to be a star with this next thing you’re writing.
 
Write a lot, eventually something awesome will come out of you. Trust yourself, and your ability. Always be improving, and remember, we improve by writing new things, not by failing to write and spending all our time fussing with something that’s already not that great to begin with.
 
Keep it fun!"


So true. I've only come to learn this by reading other works and studying authors' patterns; I didn't get a degree and many teachers/ professors would try to have me conform to what they want, not be original.  I think many writers forget the most important element of a story nowadays: creativity. You have to have fun with what you're writing, otherwise why do you bother with it? From what I've seen here, it's the best site I have seen in a long time and everyone is authentic. 

Rewriting it so many times eventually takes the joy out of the story. I think the key is balance. Focus on what only needs correcting and make sure it all flows together.

I don't think you need to have all the gold medals, be a best selling traditional author, or the most popular person on this platform to make your point; you're fine as you are. You should realize just how great you are for just posting this for all of us. Thank you for doing so. It really made a difference in a lot of people's lives. :)

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#10
This really helped me, thanks

After a month of trying to get any kind of feedback (not here) I got two things, a vague complaint about sentence structure which wasn't specific enough to help in any way and that my sf was too descriptive (?!) and that I should read romance novels (!?)

I wish the first complaint would have been better explained, I don't know about things like that, even when I've looked into it, it seems more like box ticking than serving the story, but I'm far from an expert

As for the second, I really don't understand that, at all

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#11
Love this post, all things I've slowly learned over time and all very good advice for anyone, especially those first starting out. 
I think most of the bad advice out there stems from the idea that "good writing" can be created by a process of subtraction, ie, "don't do x, remove y, and what remains will be good". Or,  do x y and z, and the work will be good, when in reality great writing doesn't conform to rules or platitudes easily. It does what is called for.

My personal favorite "writing advice" book is Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. The book could be reduced to the motto: WORK, RELAXATION, DON'T THINK. Meaning write consistently, dont stress about it, and try to get out of your own way. 

Kevin J. Anderson seems like a cool guy. Seen him around the 20books group.

Cheers and Congrats!

Re: Improve Your Writing and Your Confidence

#12
I would first of all like to say thank you OP for your opening about Writers of the Future. I had no idea this contest existed, and from having seen your post, I'm super excited to get an entry together for the March deadline. I've never done anything of the sort and to tell the truth, it's lit a bit of a fire under me. It's a total buzz, which is ace.

Also, just in general - great advice! I think a lot of the skill is learning when you're taking advice, and when you're compromising on your style, vision and authorial voice to suit another's taste.