If there’s one thing every writer knows, it’s that the internet is littered with tips, tricks, and how-tos that promise to turn you into an overnight bestseller. You can spend hours trawling through websites, blogs, and social media posts looking for guidance. Not to mention all the books on grammar, writing, publishing, marketing, and even reading. This cacophony of content can be confusing to fledgling and seasoned writers alike.
Occasionally, you’ll find a gem that will change your writing forever. Sometimes, you’ll learn, or re-learn, the basics. More often than not, you’ll come away with nothing more than a Stephen King quote about the dangers of adverbs.
The problem with most writing advice is that every tip can be countered with a contradictory trick. Below are just a few examples of how-tos that’ll have you turned around, upside down, and inside out.
Tip: Write Every Day
Writing is a numbers game. Editing and re-writing is important, but you can’t polish what isn’t there. If you put 250 words on the page every day for a year, you’ll find yourself with a 90,000-word manuscript. Knowing it only takes a paragraph a day can keep the process of finishing a manuscript from becoming overwhelming.
Trick: Take Breaks
Writing is work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-time job or a hobby on the side, it takes time and effort. Forcing yourself to work every day, on top of your other commitments, can lead to burn out. It can kill your inspiration, motivation, and joy for writing. If the words aren’t coming, shaming yourself in front of a blank page isn’t going to change that.
Tip: Kill Your Darlings
If it doesn’t work, kill it. Cutting beloved scenes, lines, or paragraphs is every writer’s worst nightmare. But if it doesn’t contribute to the flow, consistency, or quality of your story, it shouldn’t be there. No matter how much you love it.
Trick: Don’t Delete Anything
You never know what you might need later. Something may not work in one scene, but it may work in later one. It could even be perfect for completely different story. Instead of hitting delete, save the things you cut in a folder on your computer or hide it away in a used notebook. So, kill those darlings, but keep them backed up somewhere.
Tip: Never Use Said
Don’t use dialogue tags. We’ve all heard this advice, usually from our school English teacher. Cut them out, and if you can’t, switch them up. Throw ‘said’ away and replace it with more dynamic and exciting terms like ‘whispered’, ‘shouted’, or ‘growled’. Doing this can highlight aspects of your character’s personality and add emphasis to a particularly important pieces of dialogue.
Trick: Leave Those Dialogue Tags Alone
Tell us who said what. ‘Said’ is one of those nothing words like ‘and’ or ‘the’ that tends to fade into the background when we read. Cutting them out completely can be fine, depending on the story. But it can also confuse your reader. If they can’t understand who is saying what, without going back to re-read, they’ll be pulled out of the story. And overusing varied dialogue tags can have the same effect. If everyone is whispering or growling, your reader is going to notice.
Tip: Don’t Read While You’re Writing
Don’t read inside your chosen genre while you’re writing. Details from similar stories can leech into your own work and influence the story. No-one wants the word ‘plagiarism’ attached to their name, even if it’s just a whisper. On the flip side, reading outside your genre can confuse your voice.
Trick: Read Everything While You’re Writing
Reading is important for writing. Some say it’s the most important thing. It can help you better understand the rules and conventions of your chosen genre and give you an idea of what your readers want. Reading widely can help you learn new styles, techniques, and ideas.
Tip: Write for Yourself
Write what you want to read. Finishing a manuscript is a daunting task. If you don’t like the story or enjoy the writing process, writing is next to impossible. This disinterest or dislike will show and it can make your voice sound inauthentic, dull, or even petulant. And ultimately, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, why would anyone else be?
Trick: Write for Your Readers
Books are made to be read. Authenticity is important, but you can’t disregard your target audience. Writing only for yourself can affect your chances of being published, which can keep your books from those who need it the most. And let’s be honest, writing may be a passion, but it’s also a business. If it is your job, you can’t always choose what you write.
Obviously, writing advice can be inconsistent and confusing, but it can also be invaluable. Take on as much, or as little, advice as you want. But remember, the number one rule is always do what works for you.
If you’re unsure of what works, looking for something new, or just wanting to cut through the noise and hone your craft, check out Eileen Herbert-Goodall’s eight-week Creative Writing Masterclass starting on May 1.