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The Q: What’s the Best Piece of Novel Writing Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Categories: Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig Tags: Brian Klems, online editor blog, writing advice.

The QWe’ve all received writing advice at some point in our lives. Whether it was a high school English teacher who suggested we cut back on using passive voice, a conference presenter who recommended abandoning our prologue, or a roommate who told us to never give up (and to, perhaps, get a second job in order to help pay the rent). The best pieces of writing advice stick with us and make us better writers, so it’s important we share that with others—after all, writers need to stick together.

So my Q to you is: What’s the Best Piece of Novel Writing Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Here’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received, which came from a close friend/published writer:

Always remember that you love and enjoy writing,
even on the days when it’s the most difficult thing to do.

So don’t forget to leave your advice in the comments section. Maybe the advice you post here will help another young writer reach his or her goals. And, maybe, you’ll find just the right advice that will help you reach yours.

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47 Responses to The Q: What’s the Best Piece of Novel Writing Advice You’ve Ever Received?

  1. darkwinter09 says:

    Eliminate unnecessary details.

  2. The best advice I received was from Brandon Sanderson: Step away from the novel you’ve been working on forever and do something else–something you aren’t so invested in–first. After you’ve published a book or two, go back to your magnum opus.

  3. EccentricKim says:

    The best advice I’ve received out of all others was about Point of View. I had been writing since childhood, and knew I should avoid passive voice and unnecessary description, and even though all of those things still needed work, I had never given any thought to making sure I chose which perspective I was writing from, and that changed everything.

  4. cmt83 says:

    Show, don’t tell.

  5. Hi Brian. I’ve not had much writing advice, but I have read a lot of books and magazine articles, such as the ones in Writer’s Digest. One of the best ideas I’ve read was to be well read, and to read a lot of books in the genre that you want to write. I’ve been doing that, and as a consequence, I’m learning a lot. Thanks for the subscription offer – I prefer to buy my Writer’s Digest magazine at my local bookstore to help support then.

    ~Anne

  6. Ladyhazmat says:

    “Make sure your characters are worth spending ten hours with. That’s how long it takes to read a book.”

  7. Brianne says:

    My favorite piece of writing advice, and what I always have to remind my procrastinating-self to do, is to never wait for inspiration to “strike”. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll never get anything down on the page. 99 per cent of the time, you just have to put you butt in the chair and work through- it’s the only way your novel will ever get done.

  8. anil says:

    I live a little away, not many workshops, so rely on Books & WD website for advise.

    Some, which I have taken to heart, are:

    Henry David Thoreau’s advice, in an article by Frank Harvey, on Writing and Living your Dream, where Thoreau is quoted as – The Cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life, which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the end.

    Then there is Stephen King – I have never felt like I was creating anything. For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there, and I’m pretty sure that I can dig it up if I want. That’s how I feel. It’s like the stories are already there.

    As regards Writing skills, I love going through William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and getting rapped on my knuckles, again and again, with

    – Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds, the writer is always slightly behind…..Clutter is like the Pentagon calling ‘Invasion’ a ‘reinforced protective reaction strike’
    – There’s not much to be said about the Period (full stop) except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
    – Who am I writing for? …. You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience – there is no such audience.
    – Anyone who tries to explain “that” and “which” in less than an hour is asking for trouble.

    Pure unadulterated 24-carat gold, shining through ……….Of late, I also find myself reading my copy of Self Publishing Manual.

  9. ZaraAlexis says:

    I met Barbara Gowdy at a reading of “The White Bone” when I was in university. Her partner was my poetry professor at York so I received a personal introduction. When giving me advice, she told me to read what I love, not what I think everyone else is telling me to love. And that I should approach writing the same way.

    Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
    zgarcia(dot)alvarez(at)gmail(dot)com
    On Twitter: @ZaraAlexis

  10. Here is an email I received from Danielle Steel on Monday, September 10, 2007. I had sent her an email asking for some advice or tips she could offer someone who was just starting out as a writer. This is the reply I received. I have kept this email saved in my “Keepsakes” folder on my email account and I will never delete it!

    Dear Mr. Gorzkowski,

    Thank you so much for your message. I’m so very glad to hear how much you
    enjoy my books, and how much you get out of them.

    However, the question you ask is not easy to answer. It is very difficult to
    summarize the craft of writing. Try to be totally honest with yourself as
    you write, and write in your own words and your own voice, not one you think
    you should adopt. Be sure to give attention to the details of each and the
    character’s lives. The most important thing for a new writer is to write every
    day on a disciplined schedule. Even if you end up throwing out most of what you
    write, it is vital to get into this habit. Perseverance and discipline, along
    with the ability to empathize with others, are probably the most important
    attributes a writer can have.

    It is difficult to describe where my story ideas come from, though. I
    usually start with a character or situation that moves me, and I go from there.
    Through many long hours of research, thought, and development, the characters in
    the story begin to take on lives of their own. At last, if I am lucky, the
    magic moment comes when they seem to move and speak of their own accord.

    You might want to enroll in one of the many writing workshops or classes
    available in order to get some sense of how people may react to your work.

    Once your manuscript is ready to send out, all I can advise is to do what
    every writer does — submit it to all the likely agents or publishers you can
    find, and hope for the best. Often agents are more receptive to new writers than
    publishers are. Sourcebooks such as Literary Market Place or Writer’s
    Market, which are available in libraries and bookstores, will tell you what kind of
    work an agent or publisher is looking for and give procedures for submission.
    Many agents and publishers also have web sites now that will tell you about
    their policy on submitting manuscripts.

    Best of luck to you.

    Danielle Steel

  11. pronghorn8 says:

    Brian:

    I have had several good teachers with writing, I used to attend workshops annually, and the best advice was from one workshop speaker, who said, “Write, write, write. Send stuff out. If it comes back send it out again. And again. Rejections are a part of the learning process. Someday, the rejects will get more personal, and then you will get accepted. Also, one acceptance, even 10, even a book or two is no guarantee that everything will be accepted. Each article, book, short story will stand on its own.

    I can mention this on my website, cvrhoadeswriter.com. Check it out.

  12. vck says:

    The best writing advice I have ever received is read. Read everything in the genre you want to write in and then read everything else you can. I’m often surprised to hear people say that they want to be writers but hate to read.

  13. Glynis says:

    Great encouragement here – thanks for getting this going! So, the best piece of advice I received from an editor? It happened a long time ago, but I am happy to share it. In her infinite wisdom the editor, who was returning a mss to me, told me: “Cut it down by half and leave nothing out.”

  14. stwaddell says:

    Best advice, so far, “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” Steve Martin speaking on The Charlie Rose show.

  15. BingoBill says:

    As a nurse in a long term facility I have had the chance to work with some of the most interesting people. On of the residents, a ninety-plus year old woman learned that I wrote as a hobby but not seriously this her advice to me,

    “I used to want to be an artist. I collected paints and brushes and doodled around scraps of paper. It was the Depression so we had no money and no time for this ‘foolishness’ as my mother used to call it. I went to the library and looked up great paintings and knew that I wanted to do that. Later ,I married a nice man and started having children. I drew little pictures and saved my money and bought a few nicer brushes and things. When my husband was sent off to fight me the Pacific I drew pictures for him, pictures of the kids and pictures of our little house so he could share in our lives although he was far away. He would ask for scenes of the girls playing or collecting cans for the different War drives and I would sketch them out and enclose with our letters. Sometimes it took months to exchange a letter but it was worth it.
    I painted the house and added flowers and leaves to the windows. I painted fairy tale scenes for the girls and later their children. Sometimes I would try to paint a person but it always looked like a child did it so eventually I stopped. I did paint by numbers kits and he ( husband) framed them and hung them for guests but I knew they could be better.
    I never studied art.; I never studied theory or even knew what it was but now wish I had. I never saved a few extra dollars and bought that really nice paintbrush or took classes at the community college but still I wanted to paint. Now I cannot hold a brush due to arthritis and my eyesight is fading. Still, I wish I could paint. I wish I had taken the time to work at it, to make myself see it seriously. I was always too busy to take the time. I never believed in myself enough to take that first real step.
    In the end of your life will you look back on your labors. Will you have lived doing what you always wanted to do or will you look back on a lifetime of regret and missed opportunities. Choose wisely. The memories of a full life are great solace in the end. The memories of regret will make you bitter and alone. What are you waiting for? Only the dead need lie still.”
    That is the best advice I have ever received.

    • Ottarsdatter says:

      Wow. This is pretty potent stuff. On the other hand, though, this woman has created some extremely important, immediate, and lasting images of her and her children’s everyday lives. Not only will these images live on, passed down (God, I hope!) to future generations, they form a great, vivid document of a very fraught period of American history. (Plus, if they still exist, wouldn’t they make a great published children’s book? “What My Mom Saw During WWII.”)

  16. rob akers says:

    Best advice ever which applies to my writting. “Dont be scared. What could possibly go wrong?”

    sogbook@twitter.com

  17. kggraham says:

    Write what’s inside and screaming to get out…then go back and change all the -ing words to -ed words.

  18. copelandwj says:

    The best advice I ever received was READ. Writers read everything they can about everything they can.

  19. CVargo says:

    **Don’t write from your heart, write for your audience**

  20. Ottarsdatter says:

    When I told a friend (a creative writing teacher) my life story he said, “You should put that all in a novel.” I said, “But I’ve never written a word of fiction in my life!”

    His response: “Oh. Well, maybe you’d better not, then.”

    I was so pissed off that I immediately sat down and, within six months, wrote my first novel. It turned out that I’d played right into his hands, though. He was just kidding.

  21. Cristinaramos says:

    When you write, make it about the writing. Block out thoughts of getting published, your past work or other people’s writing, everything. In that moment it’s ONLY about something inside of you that needs to come out exactly how it is.

  22. melmarmat says:

    Do not use really big words just to make yourself look smart — especially if they are the wrong big words to be used in the context of the sentence. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

  23. Christine says:

    Over half the job is just showing up. It’s never steered me wrong! :)

  24. msproulx says:

    The best piece of advice I got was that to stop referring to myself as an aspiring writer. Either you write or you don’t. Hiding behind the ”aspiring” gives you excuses not to write. I am now a more confident a writer and most importantly, I write.

  25. tkflicek says:

    My best advice thus far is to first write for yourself, because if you don’t like it neither will anyone else.

  26. G.R. says:

    The best advice for me was to just relax. My best work came after a friend handed me a glass of wine and gave me these sage words of encouragement: “This is not a legal brief. This is fiction. This is fun. There are no rules in this type of writing, so let loose a little.”
    Now I know why some of the greatest writers in the world are also alcoholics.

  27. renemullen says:

    Best advice I ever received? Writer’s block does not exist. It is the excuse of those with nothing to say. If you feel you’ve hit a snag, just keep writing. Write about something else. Write a different chapter. Just keep writing. Who cares if it’s any good? You can always go back and edit (or delete). You cannot edit a blank page.

  28. The best writing advice I ever received, also posed the most significant challenge and change to my writing:

    Leave out the passive verb “is” don’t use any of the forms either like “was” or “were”. It really makes my writing have action and helps it come alive.

  29. Kaitlin Adams says:

    “To succeed at writing, you must have: Talent. Passion. Perseverance. If one of those is missing, find something else to do.”

  30. Aightball says:

    The best advice I’ve ever received: “Kindly calm the hell down”. It’s from a friend who has an MFA and is always there to cool me down when I get stressed with writing.

  31. Tim says:

    Writing is rewriting.

    egoodlett’s will be one I keep in mind when that first advance comes in the mail…I wouldn’t mind taking a little trip to do some “research.” :-)

  32. Jim Heynen, at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival said, “Never underestimate the value of 15 minutes’ writing time. It teaches us to get into the Writing Space quickly. He also offered that “Productive writers spend more time on their writing than they admit. Unproductive writers spend less time on their writing than they claim.”

  33. The best advice I can think of that I have received is to be ok with the writer (and person) you are, never try to copy someone else just because they are already successful; find out who you are as a writer through trial and error not through imitation.

  34. BrendaKezar says:

    The best writing advice I ever received was in the form of an Irish proverb: “You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.” Getting your butt in the chair and actually working on the novel is the key. It’s the difference between BEING a novelist and being one of the ten million people “who want to write a novel . . . someday.”

  35. PIBarrington says:

    I always tell this to writers: Always be your own harshest critic; that way others won’t have to.

  36. taz_lover74330 says:

    The best piece of writing advice i have ever received was Talk to the blank page as if it were an old friend.

  37. Writer_Girl says:

    Write now, think later.

  38. donnabarker says:

    I recently completed the first draft of my first novel and submitted the manuscript to a published author, my mentor, for review. Her first advice: cut 20,000 words from the 120,000 word m/s. I was shocked at how easy it was to find 20,000 extraneous words that weren’t advancing the story/plot. Great advice!

    I believe in “On Writing” Stephen King also said about 10% of a first draft should be cut.

  39. Chilo says:

    Listen to your inner voice when it comes to final decisions about your novel during revisions.

  40. Rawlings85 says:

    The best piece of novel advice I’ve ever received is this: “Never try to write like another writer”. Writing like another writer because he or she has been successful in the market doesn’t mean that you will gain that same success. Another example of trying to write like another writer is writing a fiction book about vampires because it’s “super trendy” now.

    Find your own voice and develop it in your writing and eventually the market will respond to your work in a positive way.

  41. RL4662 says:

    The best advice that I’ve ever been given is from my creative writing teacher. I had a lot of trouble starting my creative works, and he offered the following advice, which has served me very well. He told me to just spew onto the paper. Write whatever comes to mind. After you’ve spewed everything that you’re mind has formulated then you should begin to edit.

  42. VictoriaBell says:

    The best advice I have ever received was to just write. Don’t worry if it sounds good or looks good or even makes sense. Just write. You can fix all the mistakes later.

  43. egoodlett says:

    The most practical advice I ever received?

    If/when you get published, invest your advance in yourself! You can pay a ton of taxes on that big chunk of money coming in all in one year, if you want. Or you can invest all/most of it in promoting your new book (buying Google Adwords, Facebook ads, Amazon emails, going on a self-funded book-signing tour, etc.), write it all off as a business expense, and enjoy getting to use 100% of your advance in advancing your career, instead of just getting 75-50% to buy a fancy car or something.

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