Writing Advice from People Who Get Paid to Write

Here’s the best writing advice I have to offer: listen to the advice of people who are making a living from their writing.

At some point, I, an amateur writer and wannabe author (as of the date of this post) will offer unsolicited advice to anyone who reads this blog. Until such time as I am able to distill and impart my almost god-like wisdom, here is a pale imitation in the form of advice from people who are way better at it than me:

PODCASTS! In audio form, so your commute can make you wish you were writing:

Writing Excuses is an awesome podcast of writing advice by true pros. Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler (and as of last year, Mary Robinette Kowal) have round-table-style discussions about all kinds of writing topics, and provide some of the best and most succinct advice I’ve ever heard. They also have great interview guests from time to time.

The Roundtable Podcast is a great podcast that combines two kinds of podcast on one site. They do fantastic interviews with professional authors and editors that quite often give insightful advice for new writers. Then they get together with the author or editor they just interviewed and brainstorm a story idea brought in by a newer writer. The production values are high, and there have been quite a few nuggets of great advice sprinkled throughout their interesting conversations with pros.

The First Million Words is another great interview podcast directed at newer writers. The only problem I have with this podcast is that there is a decent bit of random talk about off-topic stuff by the hosts. It is usually fairly entertaining random talk, but this podcast is not for the impatient. Still, they have a number of awesome interview sessions with some great authors, and when they get around to talking about writing, a lot of good advice gets through. Plus, if you have the time, listening to this podcast is like hanging out with a couple of your goofy friends, who also happen to talk to professional authors and ask some great questions.

EBOOKS! In new visual format, so you can read them with your eyes!

The podcasts listed above are free, the ebooks I list here are NOT free. However, they ARE cheap, and you get some amazing and well-written advice for a very small price. I am also only linking to the Kindle versions of these ebooks, because while they may or may not exist in other formats (writers, start your search engines!), I own them in Kindle, and I’m lazy.

Write Good or Die is a nice little ebook that forces me to eat my words from earlier by being FREE. On Kindle at least. Basically it’s a collection of essays on writing edited by Scott Nicholson, who I hadn’t heard of until I checked out this book. I have not read the whole thing, but I am halfway through, and already it’s well worth the cost of a click. It doesn’t even use up a whole Calorie of energy to buy this book, unless you’re running on a treadmill in front of your computer.

250 Things You Should Know About Writing is an excellent advice ebook by Chuck Wendig, and it may be my favorite writing advice book ever (including the big, expensive ones I bought before). It is hilarious, inspiring, practical, and full of bad words and good advice. Check it out, and for the price of a tiny coin, well, for 99 of them, actually, you can own this brilliant ebook full of writing advice so sharp it will cut you and leave you bleeding on the floor of your office. In a good way.

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love is an eminently practical guide to increasing your word count through better outlining, intelligent time-usage, and smart story decision-making. Rachel Aaron gives the advice that she found through exploring her own writing style. The best thing about this book to me is both the extremely clear, concise writing, and the consistently focused practicality of the advice. And although you can also read a lot (but not all) of what is in this book for free on her blog (which I will link to in another post), you can also get it all collected, organized and edited in ebook form for only 99-cents. Hard to beat that.

There you go, 3 podcasts, 3 ebooks, hundreds of commas. Either next week or later this week I’ll do another post in which I talk about the blogs that also offer some great writing advice, some of the authors of which are mentioned above (Chuck Wendig, Rachel Aaron). And more!

So, good luck in your writing, and remember, the best and most consistently given writing advice I’ve heard from any and all published authors is, “Get drunk!” Wait… that’s not it. No, it was: “Keep writing!” Unless you haven’t started writing yet, in which case it is, “Start writing, and then keep writing!”

In that vein I’m going to try to crank out another 2,000 words tonight to reach for my November stretch goal of 60k words. Bam.

Brief Notes on Essay Writing

On Friday, my girlfriend, who is studying for the SAT a little late in life, asked me to help her recall/relearn how to write formal essays, of the 5 paragraph variety.

I wrote her a couple of pages of notes that turned out to be fairly succinct and apparently helped her figure it out.

Just in the interest of posterity, and helping anyone who randomly wanders across this page and also needs to write an essay, I’m going to post those notes here:

Notes on Essay writing:

1. Thesis Statement

1a. Beginning paragraph in which you elaborate on your Statement/concept.

2. Topic Sentence — present your first “proof” or argument supporting your Thesis Statement.

3. More proof/argument. Each of these three middle paragraphs should, ideally, be like a mini-essay with its own sub-thesis statement and its own sub-conclusion that point the paragraph at the original Thesis Statement.

4. More proof/argument.

5. Conclusion – reiterate your Thesis, then tie together your arguments, pointing out how they “prove” your Thesis.

The following is a tiny example essay about thesis statements.

A strong essay must begin with a strong thesis statement.

A weakly stated opinion, even if it is backed by facts and reason, is easily ignored.

A strong thesis statement will grab the attention of the reader and allow credible proof to be presented in a compelling way.

The strength of an essay depends on strong arguments, and a strong thesis statement paves the way for excellent arguments.

The conclusion should revisit the thesis without repeating it, and a strong thesis always bears revisiting. The thesis represents and implies the heart of the essay, and beginning with a strong thesis is the only way to give an essay the foundation it needs to find its strength.

I said it was short. Anyway, some final basic but important advice about how not to get a terrible grade on a school paper: do not speak in the first person (don’t use the word “I” or “me” or in fact refer to yourself at all.)

Don’t refer specifically to the reader, “you,” “yourself,” “your,” anything like that, and finally, don’t refer to a generic unnamed person, “one,” “oneself,” “someone,” etc.

A formal, school-style essay should be written in third person, be made up primarily or entirely of statements (avoid rhetorical questions!) and not use nearly as many commas as I do when I’m writing other stuff. Notice how the essay I put in this post above, though it sounds instructional, does not take the form of person-to-person advice. I do not say, “If you want a strong essay, you need to have a strong thesis statement, or your teacher will get bored instantly and stab out their eyes with a knitting needle.”

The primary effect of “formal” writing is that it does not refer to a person in any way unless you’re specifically talking about or quoting a person, and citing specific references at the end of the essay. That’s usually a whole other thing than your average formal essay, however. I think they call those “research essays” and I stay away from them as much as I can because I hate research. Especially research about any topic an English teacher happens to pick for me to research, because usually that topic is not “rockets and/or explosions” or “sexy women” or “weird animals”. Usually it’s more like “social trends among the working class in the 21st century.” Although since I’m part of the working class, that one would be a gimme.

“Mostly they hate people even more now.”

I would fail that class.