Writing Advice That's Worked for Me

I’m a dude who likes a blueprint, and I’ve got several thousand dollars worth of Lego sitting in the closet of my home office to prove it. When I set out to do anything new, I like to research what others have done. I like best practices. I like a roadmap, and I do well with an outline.

I’ve read and enjoyed a ton of writing advice, but it’s tricky to filter out the noise. All advice you’ve ever received is something that’s worked for someone else. Sometimes it’s useful. Sometimes it’s not!

Writing advice isn’t “good” or “bad”. It’s either useful, or useless. This holds true for all advice, sure. But I’m interested in talking about writing advice, and the internet is full of people with advice on how to be a better writer. I’m one of them, now!

I finished the Kick Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig last week. Wendig admits his advice should be taken with a healthy dose of salt.

The goal isn’t to deliver truth unto you. The goal is not to inflict my ways and rules upon you. The goal is to make you think. We should think about what we do.

Absolutely. Good stories don’t just materialize. They don’t spring forth, fully grown from the forehead of Mighty Zeus, armor clad and ready to do battle. Wendig’s book of writing advice is a collection of ideas, strategies, and thoughts that have worked for him. Here’s the single best piece of writing advice I got from The Kick Ass Writer:

We think of sentences as being written down and thus related to the eyes, not the ears — but good writing sounds good when spoken. Great writing is as much about the ear as it is about the eye.

I’d argue great writing is only about the ear. A beautiful sans-serif font aside, I don’t have much interest in the way words look. I like the way words sound, and the best editing tip I’ve ever heard is to read what you’ve written out loud.

Yes, you’ll feel stupid. You’ll probably sound stupid! What is this, elementary school? It’s embarrassing, and this is coming from a guy who doesn’t embarrass easily.

But it works. Good writing sounds good. Even sentences that look beautiful in print often sound wrong when you hear them. You’ll trip over bad phrasing and awkward construction when you hear what you’ve written.

And if you keep writing, you’ll get better. Slowly. Painfully. But you will improve.

Writers are made — forged, really, in a kiln of their own madness and insecurities — over the course of many, many moons. The writer you are when you begin is not the writer you become.

I have a rolling window of disgust with my own work. I’m going to come back in March and roll my eyes at this blog post. But it’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing the best work you can with the tools you have.

I keep that in mind, and my old work is more tolerable. Finding a few good tools or building a few systems makes it easier to get in the habit of writing. Here are three things that work for me.

###Write every day.###

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for an hour, or banging out 100 words, or 2,000. The only path to being better at something is to practice, and writing is no different. Stop whining that you don’t have the time. We’re all busy! If you want to be a writer, make the time.

###Finish what you write.###

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner. A gardener or an architect. You have to finish what you write. Don’t get distracted with another idea until you’ve finished the first draft.

The first draft is where your story starts, but it’s only a start. A good first draft will have little to no resemblance to your final draft. It’s a tool to get started, so you can get down to the real business of writing - rewriting.

###Simplify.###

Writing is rewriting. Once you’ve finished your first draft, let it rest for a while. Leave it alone for a day, or a week, or a month. Then go back, read what you’ve written, and be merciless. Kill your darlings, especially if they’re not doing useful work, and cut the fat. Believe me, there’s fat.

There’s always fat.

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.

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