Some of the Best Writing Advice I ever received





1. Write

Consistently. Every day, if you can. Make a space,  schedule a time, and show up. If you don’t take it  seriously, if you don’t get the words on the page, or in that Word document, you will amount to a fantasizer,  not a writer. I made the mistake (and I think this is  common) when I had my first inkling of writerly  ambitions, of thinking that everything I put on the page  must be perfect and inspired, or it wasn’t worth writing. I spent tortured years of my youth patiently awaiting that inspiration, before I realized that it wouldn’t be perfect the first time – that I would have to write a lot of crap before I ever got anything decent. Even now that I am confident I can write decently, I still have to put up with a lot of crap before I can get there. A writing teacher in college, a poet, said he threw out about 80% of his writing. Think of how much of you have to write to get a good 20% yield! The more time you put into it, the more useful words you will have in the end.







2. What Makes This Night Different from Every  Other Night?

This is what the child asks during a Jewish Seder. I asked  the question a few times when I was a kid and my parents  and their friends (all pretty serious Catholics) decided celebrating Passover would help them to better understand  Jesus. But it was another college writing teacher who instructed me to use it when writing a story. What makes this moment in this character’s life different from all the other moments? What is special about this situation? There are millions of stories about infidelity, about love, about growing up, about taking a journey – literally everything has been told before. At this point it’s not about finding a new plot, but finding a way to make the old plots feel new, of find a new way of looking at these stories.








3. Use Economy of Language

In a novel a word is $0.05. Short story: $0.25. Flash Fiction: $0.50. Poem: $1.00. The point is, the fewer words you have, the more each word counts. Don’t spend frivolously.








4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

I am an awful speller, just terrible. Sometimes I can type  along for 2-3 pages without the little dotted red lines  popping up under all my words and I’ll think “Hey, my  spelling must be getting better!” So I’ll post without proofreading, or having someone else proofread (because I cannot see those misspelled words) and then someone will point out that I have used “propose” when I meant “purpose” or some other silly little thing and I’ll nosedive into a shame spiral. But no matter if you’re a super speller or  a grammar queen, once you’ve got going and really lost yourself in your writing, than you’re likely to miss things that you would notice in a second reading, and you can’t rely on a word processor that doesn’t know that you meant “purpose” and not “propose.”







5. Don’t Ask the Reader to Carry a  Volkswagen Up the Hill Unless You’re  Going to Make It Worth It.

This is just another version of Chekhov’s Gun, but I think it’s even more vivid. Think of the reader as carrying every element of your story. You describe a character’s apartment; the reader puts the couch, the wallpaper, all the books on the shelves, in their mental sack. Now everything you mention in the story doesn’t have to be of vital importance – there is such a thing as description, obviously, but it needs a reason to be there. And if you introduce an element as emotionally heavy as a Volkswagen and don’t explain it right away, the reader is going to be left carrying that Volkswagen throughout the story, and at the end she’s going to want a reward for her hard labor or she’s going to feel cheated.

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