Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...Not What I Do

I think I'll offer a bit of writing advice this morning...
Ignore writing advice.
Yeah, that's my advice.
Ignore it.

I've given hundreds of writing seminars and taught many writing classes, I've mentored newbies, I've worked with writing groups...and dispensed all the advice that floats around in my brain.

I've had 31 novels published and more than 70 short stories. At this particular moment, I have nothing unsold in my computer. Oh, I'm working on a couple of things, but they're not finished yet. I have nothing finished in my computer that is not sold. I've edited a few dozen anthologies, more than a hundred issues of fiction and non-fiction magazines.

So I'd like to think I can offer good advice. But you don't need to take it. In fact, feel free to ignore it.

When I go to a convention, I attend writing seminars...especially those presented by Michael Stackpole, Timothy Zahn, and Gene Wolfe. And I take notes. I've had people ask me why--with all of my publishing credits--do I still attend "how to" panels. That's because I'm still learning my craft.

Michael Stackpole gave me a nugget of information at an Origins seminar years ago that cemented in my noggin and I've been following ever since. And ever since that time my rewrites have been insignificant...often the editor didn't ask for any rewrites. I have Mike to thank for that.

I met Gene Wolfe because of a writing panel. He was a GOH at the World Horror Convention in Chicago some time back. I went to his seminar, and he polled the audience to see how many of us had been published. Then he asked how much we'd had published. I think I was up to six or seven novels at that point. He crooked his finger at me and said: "You. You get up here. There is nothing I can teach you." So I shared a panel with the awesome Gene Wolfe. And we got to be friends. He doesn't really give me any writing advice, he just gives me his company at breakfast.

Tim Zahn is just a joy to listen to...and I've been listening to his seminars since 1985 in Evansville, IN. Yeah, it goes back a way.

In all the seminars I've attended, the advice most often repeated is: FINISH IT. Just keep writing, and when you're done go back and fix it. Just FINISH IT first.

Finish, then fix.

In all the years I've been writing, it's the one piece of writing advice that I do not follow. Oh, I finish what I start. I wouldn't have 31 published novels if I didn't. But I've never finished a book before I went back to fix it. I'll write a chapter, go back through the chapter and tinker until I'm happy. Then I can go on to Chapter Two. I can't work on Two until I'm happy with One. Rinse and Repeat. It's how I've always worked. It's not how I should work.

I've honestly tried to break myself of the habit.

I'm working on a book now, just ready to start Chapter Eight. BUT...

I'm going back to fix stuff in the earlier chapters this week. Because I have to, because I can't follow the writing advice that is so often offered: finish it first, then fix.

It doesn't work for me. I'll think of something I want to sprinkle in a previous chapter. And I can't wait to do the sprinkling. I have to sew that plot twist in RIGHT NOW. Maybe I'll decide to change the sex of a character, the way a character talks or dresses, or maybe the character needs to say something to serve as foreshadowing.

I know writers who jot a note to go back and make adjustments, changing the character from their current point and forging ahead.

Finish, then fix.
I can't do it.

I can't fix it later.

I have never been able to fix it later.
I have to fiddle with it NOW.

I can't take that wondrous piece of writing advice that I also dispense to folks during seminars, workshops, and critique sessions.

It's one of those: Do As I Say, But Not As I Do things in life.

Advice? Yeah, listen to it. You might pick up that amazing nugget that I got from Mike Stackpole years ago. Something that changes your writing life.

But in the end, you gotta do what works for you.

Now I'm gonna go fiddle with Chapter Two.

By the way, Gene Wolfe was wrong when he said there was nothing he could teach me.



  1. It must be the journalist - write edit until it's right, then finish. I do the same. I CAN'T keep writing if something isn't working. I have to fix it. That's why NanoWriMo gets me crazy. I can't just write gibberish and then go back. Waste of time. Maybe it's why I'm a slow writer. My goal: write faster. You didn't mention how fast you write :)

  2. I'm not fast. I used to be faster...but then I used to do repeated book rewrites. Slow and steady and I win the race.

  3. I'm going to save this one and reread it after I've got "a few" published. Then I believe I'll be better able to appreciate your paradox.

    1. Thanks for reading! Hope this winter is finding you well. Have you queried Andrew Zach?

  4. I'm with you, Jean. I always work on a section and keep working on it until I know it's right. It has never stopped my momentum going forward. I HATE writing advice as I do believe the only real teacher is experience. Read to experience books, and go for a wide range of experience -- read in many genres. And write! Wrestle with words, tickle the damn things, manipulate them into scenes, moods, characters, dialog, story. And do it any damn way that works for you. DAMN FINE BLOG, Jean. Loved it!

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing it. You write awesome blogs. I don't write them often enough, but I'm getting better about it.