A Piece of Bad Advice

16 Sep

The problem with starting out as a writer is that you will get a great deal of advice – and you won’t have the experience to separate the good from the bad. As a general rule, good advice tends to come from experienced authors; bad advice tends to come from everyone else. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some authors have immensely lucky breaks that cannot (often) be duplicated by everyone else.

One such piece of advice comes from Lorraine Devon Wilke, writing in the Huffington Post. You can read the full article, if you like, but the basic thrust of her argument is that writers should only write one or two books a year.

Now, Larry Correia and Amanda Green have already said most of what I wanted to say about it, so I’m going to restrict myself to the basics.

One – writing is a learned skill and the only way to learn is through doing. I mean it. The average writer needs to write at least one million words before he or she winds up with something readable, let alone publishable. My first few completed manuscripts were, to put it kindly, awful. Yes, there are a handful of writers who produce something publishable on their first try, but that’s very rare. I know I certainly didn’t.

So yes, you need to write and write and write. You have to develop a mindset that keeps in mind that you’re doing a job. That this is your career. That you have to keep writing. You cannot afford to develop an attitude about your work.

Two – if you want to be a fiction writer, you have to write to entertain and then educate, not the other way around. I’ve long lost track of the number of unreadable pieces of ‘message fiction’ I’ve seen in my career. Many pieces of ‘great literature’ that I have read were profoundly un-entertaining.

This is not only true of writing, of course. The movie Thor is a good example of a melding between entertainment and serious thought.

Three – there are limits to how far any given manuscript can be fixed. I’d freely admit, if pressed, that my first book could not, reasonably, be reshaped into something publishable. If I wanted to return to the plot, I’d be better off restarting from scratch.

What that means is that you shouldn’t spend years crafting the perfect manuscript. There’s no such thing! You should write to the best of your ability, then use what you’ve learned to write the next one. Authors have been bogged down for years just trying to weed out the bugs in their first manuscript when, frankly, it was a pointless endeavour.

Four – You have to eat too.

Chuck Gannon, on my Facebook, pointed out that writers have to eat, pay their bills and meet their other expenses. Ok, many authors are supported by their partners; an understanding partner is an important part of being a writer. But if you’re writing for profit, you have to write what sells. Very few writers can afford to think of themselves as great artists and, at the same time, put food on the table.

Five – You need to be noticed.

It’s a simple fact that, the more books you put out, the easier it is to be noticed. People will see your name cropping up a lot more on Amazon, for example. And if you cross the different genres, you will lure more readers into your web. I’m a science-fiction writer, but I’m also a fantasy writer, an alternate history writer, a near-future thriller writer and a young adult writer. (Did I miss any?) I have readers who started in one genre and moved on to my other works. (And I’ve also had readers who say I should stick to one genre because they didn’t like my work in other genres.)

I’m not the only one, of course. How many authors can you name who work in more than one genre?

Larry makes a good point that needs to be repeated. There are authors who come up with a great idea, write out the first manuscript and then spend years shining it up. It does happen; they send it to an agent, who loves it and does an excellent job of convincing a publisher to buy it. It sells like hot cakes. Everyone’s happy … but then the author finds out that the publisher wants a second book, perhaps a third. If the author hasn’t developed good working practices by then, they’re going to be in deep trouble.

The blunt truth is that writing is hard. If you want to make a living off it, you need to take it seriously and learn how to do it properly. You will always be learning. Trust me on this. The last thing you need to do is to limit your output or spend years polishing a manuscript.


9 Responses to “A Piece of Bad Advice”

  1. Dennis the Menace September 16, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    Where do stand on software tools like Scrivener?

  2. Anarchymedes September 17, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    So writing as a hobby is a big no-no? Because I agree: as soon as you start doing something for a living, you do it the way that pays off, rather than the way you want to do it. In the past, I personally knew a writer whom his publisher forced to hammer out detectives — or go back to the smelter where he used to work. He hated his own stuff so much, and was so ashamed of the crap (he used a stronger word) he had to produce that he refused to sign his name under it, and used a pseudonym instead. So why can’t writing, or any other creative endeavour be an outlet where you could be 100% yourself, while at work, in the office or wherever it is, you’re being what you must be in order to keep your job? That way, you may only produce, say, a book a year, yes — and you must be either lucky as hell or talented as Tolkien himself to get anything published. But it just might be better than this sort of pastime. Q: What’s the difference between simply the delusional person and someone truly mentally ill? A: The delusional simply build castles in the sky; the mentally ill actually move in and start living there. And then they’re surprised their Facebook statuses are misinterpreted. 🙂

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 17, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

      So in your “Castle In The Sky”, the choice is between writing that “perfect novel” and being a slave to the publisher (ie writing crap).

      Chris and other indie authors “write what they want to write” *and* “write what they think readers would like”.

      • Anarchymedes September 17, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

        The choice is between expressing yourself and serving the customers — which, to me, is the difference between doing something as a hobby and doing something for a living. And it’s not just writing: even sex is the same. There are sex workers, as they’re called here, and there are, well, the rest of us. And if somebody manages to successfully combine the two (in writing or in anything else) — why, cudos to them, and congratulations. But I personally believe this to be one of those ‘lucky breaks that cannot (often) be duplicated by everyone else.’

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 17, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

        I suspect that I’ve met and talked with more writers than you so I think I understand them better than you.

        From I what I take from them is that they are “story tellers” first and foremost.

        They write what they enjoy to write and enjoy having other people enjoy what they write.

        If they didn’t “enjoy what they are writing”, then they’d write something different.

        “Slave to the publisher”? That’s nonsense or at least not in the case of most authors that I know about.

        I don’t know who that writer was that you mentioned so I can’t comment on the truth of what you reported.

        Robert Heinlein, who became “big” enough that he didn’t worry about publishers, said that if you didn’t write something that others would enjoy, then you were just “playing with yourself” (in the sexual sense).

        Sounds to me like you want Chris and other writers to just “play with themselves”.

        No, real story tellers become better story tellers by telling their stories to as many people as possible and are able to get better by receiving the best “awards” possible, other people’s money.

        I know a little about Chris’s career. He wrote his stories and was willing to listen to people who pay money to read good stories.

        So that he learned to write stories good enough that people would pay him money for the stories.

        I’ll listen to him about writing more than I’d listen to some person who doesn’t care about “being paid” by the readers. Those people are “playing with themselves” so they get some fancy “award” from other people who sneer at writers that readers enjoy reading.

      • chrishanger September 18, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

        I don’t think I have ever written a book I didn;t enjoy writing at the time


        My Site: http://www.chrishanger.net/
        My Blog: https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/
        My Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall


  1. Writing : Bad Advice and Old Traditions - September 17, 2015

    […] Chris Nuttall wrote a pretty good piece about starting out as a writer. In fact every point he makes about the process, the learning, and the desire, has been exactly what I’ve followed. But it’s fairly amazing to me how so many people still stick to those old tried and true traditions. […]

  2. Writing : Bad Advice and Old Traditions - October 13, 2015

    […] Chris Nuttall wrote a pretty good piece about starting out as a writer. In fact every point he makes about the process, the learning, and the desire, has been exactly what I’ve followed. But it’s fairly amazing to me how so many people still stick to those old tried and true traditions. I have a few goals : […]

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