What's the Most Helpful Writing Advice You've Read This Year?

This week marks the 2nd anniversary of There Are No Rules!

To celebrate, I’m giving away a Writer’s Digest VIP package and the option to attend the September Editors’ Intensive for a free 50-page critique and appointment with yours truly. (Read fine print below, please!)

If you’d like to participate, then all you have to do is comment on THIS post, and answer one of these two questions:

  • What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve read online in the past year? (You must provide a link to the advice.)
  • What advice or instruction have you been searching for online, but haven’t been able to find? (Please elaborate as much as possible.)

On April 5 at noon EST, I’ll choose a winner (from eligible comments) at random (using Random.org) and post news of the winner on this blog, as well as on Twitter.

Fine Print

  1. Click here for information about the Writer’s Digest VIP program. If you’re already a subscriber to Writer’s Digest magazine or WritersMarket.com,  it will extend your subscriptions for a year. If you’re already a VIP, you’ll receive a free VIP renewal.
  2. Click here for information about the Writer’s Digest Editors’ Intensives in Cincinnati at our headquarters. If you choose to attend, you’ll receive free registration and an appointment with me to discuss the first 50 pages of your work. Travel, lodging, and any other costs associated with your attendance are not included in this prize.

Photo credit: kazeeee

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24 thoughts on “What's the Most Helpful Writing Advice You've Read This Year?

  1. Lydia Houghton

    I stumbled across Katie Ganshert’s blog recently http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/ where I found some wonderful information on writing and her personal journey. She not only accumulates writing tips and techniques from other sources, but also includes examples of her own struggles and use of the techniques. It has been a fabulous source of information and inspiration since discovering it.

  2. Janice Hussein

    Bob Mayer’s website on the "Writing Tips" webpage has numerous free tips for authors, with 16 free PDF downloads, covering Mistakes and solutions, as well as on your ideas for novels, goal-setting for writers/authors, and Point of view.

    The most helpful piece of advice I’ve found, for writers: the Conflict Lock.
    On Bob Mayer’s "Writing Tips" webpage:
    http://www.bobmayer.org/index.php?id=28
    His website is full of valuable information for writers, especially about how to go from writer to published author, and about the publishing business itself, which most websites don’t address. Bob Mayer gives you free tips about the writer/author in the publishing world, with discussions about various issues and possible stumbling blocks, part of the Warrior Writer program.

    He also has free YouTube uploads on the Introduction to his Writers Presentation, as well as

    "How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis" and

    "Pitching an Editor/Agent"

    There’s also a link to a radio interview at Yourmilitary.com, with Mr Mayer about how to reach your writing goals, how to become a better writer.

  3. Roni Griffin

    I recently attended a workshop by screenplay consultant Michael Hauge on applying screenplay techniques to novels. The advice was so helpful and the straightforward plotting structure he suggested was wonderful for an avid pantser like myself. Here’s the link to the plotting format: http://www.screenplaymastery.com/structure.htm

    Also, I’ve read a ton of wonderful information from RWA’s archive of workshop/conference handouts that they provide free online. http://www.rwanational.org/cs/2009handouts

  4. Evonne Lack

    I hope this works! I’ve left 3 comments already but none stuck. Not sure what I’m doing wrong but will try again. I have been trying and TRYING to find advice for people who are writing books w/ protagonists (and probable audiences) in late teens / early twenties. I understand this is a "dead zone" and agents don’t want it. I’m aware of St Martins "New Adult" category but also aware that many agents don’t exactly embrace this idea. Thanks!!!!

  5. Heather Faesy

    I started my journey into the writing world just recently. I had always been too scared to put my thoughts and ideas on paper, thinking that I was being silly/crazy/absurd, but I had this story idea that stalked me night and day. It was screaming to be written. I found myself up at 1am writing bits and pieces and the more I wrote, the more that came as the nights progressed. Then I came across this blog post: Making the time to write.

    http://ffnp.blogspot.com/2009/12/making-time-to-write-by-yasmine.html

    I decided it was time to make the jump; it was time to give it a shot. So, I set a monthly word goal for 6 months and started committing myself to the craft. It’s been a wild and crazy journey.

    No, my "best" writing advice isn’t on details or story structure or how to tackle revisions…it has been to simply make the time and attempt to write. It put me on this path and there’s no going back now. (thank goodness)

  6. Wendy Beckman

    My favorite writing advice came from the blog "Writer’s Block Help" — which I think limits her audience, but she didn’t ask me when she named it ;-) — at <http://www.writers-block-help.com/sensory-details.html&gt;.

    I thought I was finishing my first novel this year when one of my writing group buddies pointed out that I had very few sensory details (except for emotions). I went looking for exercises to get better at incorporating the senses and found this blog. I promptly bookmarked it.

    Specifically about adding sensory details, she recommended two things that helped me: write through the eyes of other people — she suggests your family members, the cashier at the corner drug store, for example — as a way of seeing what they would notice in a scene. She also suggests making a list of the things around you. As she made hers I noticed how I was developing a picture of who she was. Then she went back and showed how adding different details to the items on the list would give different impressions to the readers.

    I found these to be good writing activities to improve my skills at adding sensory details not just to this novel, but for all my writing.

  7. Monica

    Happy Anniversary to There Are No Rules! Excellent place on the web.

    Best find has to be:
    http://storyfix.com/story-structure-series-1-introducing-the-four-parts-of-story
    the first part in a fantastic series at Storyfix.com, which changed the way I approached writing my stories. Instead of struggling to gather my ideas, organize my thoughts, and make it through to the end of the story, this story structure series showed how to do just those things. Larry Brooks’s structure acts as a guide, not to inhibit your ideas, but to provide a path when you feel a bit lost in the woods – or actually to keep you from ever getting to that point.

    By the way, Ez’s contribution, another page at the same site, is a close second. Seriously helpful stuff.

    I’ll answer both questions. What am I still looking for? To be as specific as possible, how to lay clues in a mystery novel throughout the story without giving away the ‘answer’ – and to know when you’ve given enough clues or not enough. How to show glimpses of your villain without giving away who the villain is.

    You asked for specific! ;-)

  8. Cambria Dillon

    The best writing advice I received was actually in person last year when I attended Jenny Crusie’s workshop at RWA’s National conference. Her insight into Turning Points (pacing and structure) really made sense and I’ve noticed a vast improvement in my writing ever since.
    Here’s her blog entry on Turning Points, complete with a diagram for those visual learners: http://www.arghink.com/2009/07/29/turning-points-handout-from-rwa-national/.

    Another piece of advice I received was from Catherine Spangler when she gave an online workshop at the Romance Divas forum. She said, "In writing, you can get by with almost anything as long as you motivate it properly." I have that on a post-it note by my computer. Here’s the link to the online discussion (it’s buried after the 4th point): http://forums.romancedivas.com/index.php?showtopic=56517.

  9. John R. Sundman

    The most helpful helpful writing advice I’ve found online wasn’t something I read, it was something I watched and listened to, the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), talking about
    the important (& mostly lost) semantic distinction between "being" a genius and "having" a genius:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

    As for written advice online, I highly recommend Jeff Vandermeer’s sites "Ecstatic Days" and "Booklife": http://booklife.org/

    I very much enjoyed the book "Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for 21st-Century Writers"; in fact I own a copy & have marked it up extensively. There isn’t a lot of original stuff in it, frankly, for those writers who are immersed in the emerging model of writer as Internet celebrity & self-promoter. But the info is very well presented, without condescension to people not comfortable in this brave new world, and the tone is exceptionally direct, friendly, and supportive — an ass-kick administered with great consideration.

    Or maybe I just am predisposed to say nice things about Vandermeer because I so admire his writing. When I first heard of him, my reaction was "who is this punk stepping into my my dystopian
    techoparanoid turf? This place belongs to *me*!!"

    And then I read his books and said, "Damn, I hate it when anybody is this good."

  10. Jessica Tudor

    This is easy. Lilith Saintcrow’s post Truth is a Consequence (http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/journal/2009/04/truth-is-a-consequence/). It was so honest and earth-shaking I spent the rest of the year not finishing anything in fear, and now that I’m writing again, I AM amazed at the leap I made. She was right. (Yes, I was the writer who asked; it’s not one of those, ‘I feel like she wrote this just for me!’ – she did write it for me.)

    What I’d love to find? Also easy – more on revisions. I find plenty of general advice, and plenty on line-editing, but I want someone to talk about, okay, HOW do you know what in the big picture needs fixing? Literally, HOW do you fix it? Not, I fix the plot elements and reprint on colored paper and do character motives. Well, fine, HOW? Nobody talks about the physical how of revisions.

    Thank you!

  11. Jared Larson

    Well, I have to say that I’ve learned a great deal from Nathan Bransford’s FAQ section on his blog at: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/08/faqs.html
    But the most potent advice for me has actually been from an unpublished writer named Elizabeth Black. Here: http://elisabethblack-writer.blogspot.com/2010/02/abstract-vs-concrete-prose.html she shows an example from JRR Tolkien’s work and the difference between abstract and concrete prose.

  12. Theresa Milstein

    The best writing advice I received was to read as much as possible, so in the last several months, I’ve focused on reading books on writing. I’d already read a bunch of middle grade and YA books, but I needed to focus on the craft on writing. This was even better than the advice to join a critique group because now "I" can see the big flaws without having someone else tell me, so when it goes to a critique group, there are less comments.

    And I have to say that I loved the Harry Potter series on your blog because it broke down books in a concrete way with familiar examples. Most story structure books go from book to book for examples, which makes it hard if I haven’t read the books. I KNOW Harry Potter!

    I would love advice on voice. Many blogs discuss it, but because it’s not as concrete as structure and plot, I haven’t found any of it helpful. Perhaps it’s because people think voice can’t be taught. But I believe that a post that gave examples of voices and why they work would be interesting.

  13. Tracy

    Back in March, I got the urge to write a movie script, based on a story I had published last year. I’ve never written a script before, and began searching online to learn how.

    The folks at NaNoWriMo are holding a "Script Frenzy" during this month of April (same concept as NaNo, but participants write scripts instead of novels.) Before the event started, the folks at Script Frenzy put together a BOATLOAD of information on everything one needs to know to write four different kinds of scripts. I sat down, absorbed most of the pages, wrote an outline over a weekend, and then wrote the entire script during the following week.

    Then, after an edit by friends, I sent it off to my very first contest!

    I highly recommend:

    http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/overview

    It’s awesome!

  14. Barbara

    Hi Jane,

    I enjoy Elizabeth Sims’ pieces. This one was especially helpful:

    http://www.writersdigest.com/article/how-to-make-your-novel-a-page-turner/

    What I am looking for and cannot find (and if no-one will provide it I will come up with my one) is a fun guide on "diet for writers", "how to survive deadline madness", back stretches for writers, specific software that tells you to drink water or stretch, cosmetic products like specific eyedrops that are particularly helpful for writers, snacks for writers — the wellness/sports/nutrition stuff. But the guide must be fun and well written otherwise it would be tedious.

    All the best,
    Barbara

  15. Ez

    Most useful (as in printed out several copies, filled in the blanks and put a copy in my purse, a copy in my writing notebook and a copy next to the computer):

    http://storyfix.com/the-single-most-powerful-writing-tool-youll-ever-see-that-fits-on-one-page

    It’s about plots and plotting, but it was super helpful for a fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants writer. (me)

    Other things I found really helpful. The secret of Harry Potter series here. I seriously stalked this site for new posts.

    Things I wish I found more of. How to write the middle of the book. And how to tie everything up for the ending. There is very little on keeping all the threads going to the end, and then wrapping them up well. Especially in comparison to topics like writing a query or writing great beginnings.

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