Artists often get tons of advice from all over the place, from people who might know what they’re talking about and from plenty of others who don’t. This can make it difficult to wade through everything to what’s actually useful.
And so, as we start coming around to NaNoWriMo time again, I thought I’d post a fresh shortlist of some of my favorite (actually useful) tips and ideas:
1. From Vonnegut’s classic 8 rules for writing short stories: “Start as close to the end as possible.” —This encompasses so many excellent style pointers for both novels and short stories: don’t waste the reader’s time, more writing doesn’t equal more complexity/intrigue, world-building and character-building shouldn’t be different from plot advancement, and so on and so on.
2. From Drew Chial’s post, “Why Every Story Needs Its Own Pit of Snakes”: “The second act demands sacrifices.” This is an essential storytelling tenet: the rising action of a story must lead to an Act II sacrifice; it’s the moment where all sins culminate to push the hero to its lowest point, where a beloved secondary character bites it, where the hero loses (even if only temporarily) that which is held most dear. Of course, this often requires more sacrifice on part of the author than the story’s hero, as may be evidenced by the countless stories that end toothless and unsatisfying thanks to the hero’s climb being all too easy.
3. From Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: “Zest. Gusto.” Bam!
4. From Stephen King’s On Writing: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” —A special note on this one: definitely be reading in whatever genre it is that you’re writing; don’t be afraid that someone will influence you and your voice—embrace it! I promise you, you’re not going to end up writing in their voice. Rather, you’ll simply be learning the tricks of the trade from peers and professionals while also learning how to make those tricks uniquely your own.
5. From Margaret Atwood: “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read.” —Writing with an audience in mind is often a useful trick, but it can just as often be useful to imagine that the audience is you and you alone, or a perfect stranger, or a very specific, very faraway, and very scandalous (and thus difficult to scandalize) person.