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Sunday, 4 May 2014

ADVICE FOR WRITERS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

The important point about this blog's title is as follows: I give and receive writing advice.
   You can, too.
   What sort of advice is there, for writers? Good, bad, and indifferent. Only you will know what works for you - so the advice you receive may be no good. And the advice you give might just fall into that category as well.
   Let's have some thoughts...

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Start by thinking of yourself as a writer.
   You should be past that point. If you aren't, start there. Where, exactly? If you are published, you are a writer. Accept it. And if you are unpublished, you are still a writer if you are nailing words to the page.
   I must go a little further into Wonderland at this stage. If you are a writer who isn't writing anything down, but you plan to create stories, then you are a writer.
   Even if you don't type or scribble, you just...merely think...even then?
   Yes. Even so. I'm a writer. Check that blog carousel. Those are my stories. In the misty Jurassic, I sat and thought up tales. But I didn't write them down.
   Keeping ideas in my head was a way of fixing the story there. I'd do all the changes and improvements in my mind. Well, where else was I going to operate? From someone else's mind?
   My Mind Transfer Device trademark is due any day.
   Why was I like this? Typewriter. I wouldn't go to the typewriter unless I had to. You can't chop and change on the printed page as easily as you can in the digital realm of cut and paste.
   Jurassically, all I had was the typewriter.
   So without writing stories, I was engaged in all the standard storytelling activities - minus the pesky writing. I'd read. And research. Concoct plots. Invent characters. Establish twists in tales. Pacing. Description. Lack of description.
   All that stuff and more. It was all good. But it was all in my head. Was I a writer? Of course. Published? Not then, no. Still a writer, though. Published now? Hit the Amazon Kindle store. I'm there.

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So. If you are unpublished, you are still a writer - even if you are the only person in the world who can sit and read your story. More. Even if you can't look at a page. Yes. Even if it is all in your head.
   Advice for writers. Start by thinking you are a writer. That applies most especially if you are already published.

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Writing is not the end result - that is reading. So start there. Read. And if you want to write in a particular area, check out that area. Familiarise yourself with the terrain. And abandon it.
   Read outwith your chosen area. I'm on record here with this, so it is worth repeating...
   Endlessly.
   I was going to write sci-fi and fantasy tales. Of those, I drank. The taste was fine. But I had to swig of other concoctions. Without any advice from anyone, I made a decision.
   If I am to write sci-fi and fantasy tales, I must read crime fiction. And non-fiction. Biography. Art. Science. All these things and more.
   I don't often have these awesome moments of super-enlightenment. Wait. No. Actually. That was my one moment. A few other things came close, but. No. That was it.
   Since then, I've discovered that a lot of writers will tell you this. Read outside your chosen area. The idea came to me early, and on the wings of a mighty wind.
   Maybe some writerly instinct kicks in and tells scribblers this. Well, if you've never felt this way, if no one mentioned it, there's advice for you.
   It's important. I had a real light-bulb moment, so that you don't have to struggle with it.

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Make mistakes, because, hey, you are going to. I won't regale you with my catalogue of sins. Oh, if you insist...
   So far I only risked opening myself up to the torture of litigation once. (Once being enough.) The error was mine. It lay in the way I archived files.
   The wrong file was sent out. Decisions were based on thinking the right file went away. Later, I had my error pointed out to me. In a kindly way. No lawyers required.
   First, I made amends. I did that so well, I was treated heroically. Shouldn't have been. Just happened that way. A little weird, I'll admit. I instituted a change to my archive, so the mistake was designed out of the system.
   My advice on mistakes, therefore, is...
   Make non-fatal mistakes and learn from them. Always preferable to the alternative.

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Typos? Nail them. Mistakes...in business, in plotting, in a spot of DIY on a shaky ladder as you fix up the house between chapters...
   See the mistake or have it pointed out to you. Assess the problem. Fix what you can. Learn what you can.
   Don't eat the yellow snow twice. I wouldn't eat it the first time, either.

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Just be yourself. And if you are a really shitty person, be a better person.

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We write the stories we are meant to write. Even if we hate them as we write them down. Especially if we hate them after we are done. The writing mood doesn't matter.
   I can be in a foul mood and turn in a great scene that's full of sunny and light. And I might enjoy writing a cracking sequence that, on further examination, falls flatter than the prize-winning entry in a pancake competition.
   So understand this. Reach a point in writing your story. Done. Let it go. You wrote it that way for a reason. Cut loose of it. Moods change. The story is the story.
   If you aren't happy with it, write another one. And another one. Keep going.
   Write your story. Edit your story. Publish your story.
   That's better advice than this: dither, chop and change, muck around endlessly, shit up the walls.

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I speak to all kinds of writers. We share thoughts, exchange views, and laugh at the insanity of it all. Advice comes to me with goodwill, and it leaves my office with a hope of being useful.
   Sometimes you go looking for assistance. At other times, you have to step away from help and take a breather. Occasionally, someone rushes in asking for advice.
   Help is good, or it wouldn't be helpful. Know when to give it, when to accept it, and also remember to take that breather.
   At the end of all this advice-giving and advice-receiving, you sit alone in front of a keyboard and do your own thing. There's room for you at the typeface.

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Worth repeating. I don't have a single rival in the writing game. We're all in this together, alone at the keyboard. It is saddening to hear that some writers look on others with an unholy shade of green filtering into the gaze.
   Did you make a sale? I don't have time in my schedule for envy. And I didn't lose a sale because you made one. That's absurd.
   You might find yourself wanting what other writers have. That's okay. But don't hate.
   Oh, you can moan about a writer's style or lack thereof. But don't go on a quest to turn jealousy into your big thing. There's a bigger thing worth spending time on. Writing. And coffee.

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Yes, this blog advice is non-advice. It's for the beginner. And for the veteran who lost the plot, maybe.

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Make copies of your work. Eventually, even with stories in your head, you must write those stories down. The safest form of back-up is still publication.
   Publish.

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Put the time in. Spend the hours. Productively or unproductively, walk the walk. There is drudgery in writing: accept it. You are not following this path to become famous. This is about writing. Telling stories.
   I must divert into mention of writing non-fiction. Different area of work. But there is still drudgery, you'll have writer colleagues, back-up files are vital, envy is counterproductive, be yourself...
   That stuff applies to non-fiction, just the same. Maybe you'll need more coffee.

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Read copyright law. There's solid advice for you.

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Were you looking for advice on how to start a tale? Never open a story with a vomiting wombat. It's been done to death. Eighteen mid-Victorian novels begin in this fashion. Only three are what I'd call readable.

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Have a sense of humour. It need not be conventional, or understandable. If your friends mock you while you mock yourself, all is well with the world. You'll get by. (Maybe that situation only applies to me.)

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Coffee.

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Learn. Always learn. Unfortunately, I always seem to learn the hard way. Maybe putting triple the effort in gives me bonus points at the end. I'd like to fucking think so, though those points are never there when I cross the bloody finish.
   Try stuff. Fail at it. Throw yourself at the wall again. If you can't climb it, tunnel under it, or stagger around it, knock it flat.

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Keep going. Help out where you can. Don't help out where you can't. And don't be a writer who murders hope. Healthy cynicism is useful. Getting it wrong is okay. Venting steam in a blog is handy. We all have different tastes. I don't take sugar in coffee.
   True defeatism, shock-horror, will defeat you. It's okay to blog about the ups and downs of writing. You might feel all you can talk about is the negativity when scribbling.
   Okay, shrug the weight off your shoulders that way if you must. Don't be a writer who murders hope. For then, you won't be a writer.
   Keep going.

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Some of you may have struggled with the concept that coffee constitutes writing advice. You'll come to that, in your own time.

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Read copyright law. Nationally and internationally.

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I fucking meant what I said about the wombat. Now get out of here. I have marsupial vomit to scrub.


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