The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need


oh, and you should read a lot, too.

Just write, really. If you need encouragement, business advice, or criticism of your work, that’s something else entirely. I’m only being somewhat facetious here. If you write, you’re a “real writer.” You’re not going to find magic on a blog or a Twitter account. And why take advice from someone like me who’s been in the biz for only a few years? It makes no sense. How about a pro who knows both traditional, “indie” and hybrid?

For practical writing advice and some business advice, I usually recommend Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block, but he recently updated Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel (the original didn’t have the pixels). LB began sending out stories, then wrote speedily under pseudonyms, then wrote stand-alones under his own name, then wrote series, improving all the while, until his series characters kicked off. He certainly was born with innate talent and has spent years honing his skill, so don’t expect to emulate his success; but you can emulate his hard work, and that often bears tasty fruit. (In fact, he may have written Tasty Fruit under a pseudonym. He keeps finding erotic books he wrote back when). The point is, LB has been out on the cutting edge of the writing scene for at least fifty years. His advice is up to date and practical.

If you don’t write as much as you’d like, or if you feel daunted, I might suggest Stephen King’s On Writing. But he began 50 years ago and hit it big on his first try, so his business acumen is not relevant to most of us. His writing advice however, is spot on.

If you find yourself “blocked” often, I won’t judge. You don’t have to write every day. You know who told me that? LB. On his Write For Your Life audio mp3. The book is worthwhile, too. If you want strong exercises that will break blocks and keep them from recurring, Jerrold Mundis literally wrote the book on it: Break Writers Block Now!

I get stressed when  I think that I have to write or edit every day. It is counterproductive. But if I don’t think about it, I usually write or edit every evening after dinner and before I allow myself time to read or watch television. That works for me. The thing is, there’s no one way. Anyone who tells you different is selling you their books on how to write.

Dark City Lights available for pre-order

Last year, Lawrence Block contacted me for a story. He’s one of the writers who inspired me to write, and I keep a signed copy of TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT near my writing desk, so I buckled down to tackle an idea I’d been saving. The collection is titled DARK CITY LIGHTS, and my story “The Big Snip” appears alongside work by Jerrold Mundis, Erin Mitchell, SJ Rozan, Warren Moore, Robert Silverberg, Jonathan Santlofer and many more.
Three Rooms Press has it available for pre-order from Amazon. If you want to see what 23 writers do when Lawrence Block, the crime-writer King of New York, asks them to write about the 8 million stories in the Empire city, this is the book to read.
You can pre-order it from Amazon, or from your local bookstore.


Hunting Yabbits

elmer_fudd_a_wild_hareA friend on Twitter suggested that I write a book on writing. I think that’s a bit premature, as there is a plethora of writers giving advice out there. But I try to make a habit of distilling the essence of an idea and filtering out the bullshit. So here goes.

Writing is a muscle. You must flex it. You must use it. Does this mean “write every day?” For me, it does. For you, maybe not. Whatever works. But to find out what works, you need to try a lot of things, which involves writing.

In weightlifting everyone wants answers. The articles are a lot like articles on writing- the same stuff, then some new radical idea that everyone tries a while because this one person saw amazing results, and everyone talks about it a while, then it fades away, and then maybe a few years later it gets rediscovered when someone has a deadline. What works is lifting heavy things. You want a better bench press? Do a lot of bench presses with proper form, adding a little more weight each cycle, no more than you can do with proper form.

Part of this came to mind from Steve Weddle saying that some story writers should build a set of stairs before they try to build an escalator, or a Wonkavator for that matter. I think those are two totally different fields of construction, but I see the point. Before you can write a complex story, you should write a straightforward one. And write some more.

This is where the yabbits come in.

Yeah, but Tarantino’s first movie was non-linear and stuff. Yeah, but David Foster Wallace. Yeah, but this bro at the gym with thunder guns said… Yeah, but. Yabbit, yabbit, yabbit.

Write. Don’t agonize over it. Just write it. I still agonize, way too often. I don’t trust my voice all the time. I worry about building the roof when I’m putting in the basement. I want to take the elevator when I haven’t built the stairs. We all do it. It takes discipline not to do it, and discipline falters now and then, but we don’t tear the house down or abandon it, we go back and build the damn stairs.

Six metaphors later, I get to the point. My writing advice is simple. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Does every story have to be great? Certainly not. I have a few turds in my pocket I’ll never share. (Unless you approach me nicely and say, “Tommy, can I hold the the dessicated turd you keep in your pocket?” Then I’ll gladly let you fondle it.) This also doesn’t mean you need to construct the perfect, master carpenter spiral staircase before you let your imagination run free. Just be aware that the tough, complex stories will take a lot of work. Sometimes you need to build them later, after you’ve tackled stuff that’s a little easier and more fun.

Because no matter what people say, writing should be fun. It can be tedious, brain-racking work. But so is working out, or building a set of stairs. You can learn to enjoy it, but it’s always work. It’s the results that are the fun part, when you’re proud of what you’ve done, when you read it yourself and don’t cringe, or when everyone wants to squeeze your biceps like Brad Pitt’s booty, those are great moments. Like riding the Wonkavator. But before you get there, build the damn stairs. And climb them a few times. Writing is sedentary. You don’t want to die of heart disease before you finish your bullet train escalator novel, do you?

To distill this…
How I Write.
1. Daydream often. You need ideas. Daydream in the shower. On the train. In the car. Try not to daydream while other people are talking.
2. Read everything. News, books by authors you love, books by authors you’ve heard are great but aren’t “your thing,” old books, new books.
3. Sit down to write regularly. To quote Jack London, “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to chase it down with a club.” Talk yourself into writing for five minutes.

For real advice, I recommend these books.
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. The one book that I read first. LB is funny, tolerates no bullshit, and is one of the greatest short story writers working today. Let him be your Writer’s Block. Haw haw.

On Writing, by Stephen King. Half memoir- which made me like the man even more- and half no-BS writing talk. He eschews notes, which I disagree with. I use Evernote to take notes on my phone. But solid advice.

Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis. This is the advice you’ll say YABBIT about. But it works. Whether you want to begin writing, write regularly, or break a dry spell this book is a must. Some sounds like bullshit- relaxing before you write? WTF? but it makes sense once you actually think about it, and try it. Anxiety is the root of most blocks.

And when you quit being a yabbit and start writing the big ponderous novel, I recommend Scrivener. It helps keep me organized, lets me write the scene I want to write, no matter where in the book it is, and keep things sensible. You can compile in Standard Manuscript format, Screenplay, as an e-book, paperback templates… truly a powerful tool, and great for taming that wild imagination:

Get Scrivener 2 for Mac
Get Scrivener for PC

And Steve Weddle’s debut novel COUNTRY HARDBALL is available for pre-order. Steve is a fine writer, and I’m sure these stairs won’t creak or send you plummeting to the basement.