Chip MacGregor

March 28, 2014

What's the best writing advice you've ever received?


So it’s spring break for most people. You might be heading out of town, or driving to the beach, or trying to find a place to relax and dive into that new book you bought. I’m going the same thing — well… I live at the beach, so I’m not heading there, but I am trying to ditch the crowds find some quiet so I can read today. I have a long list of projects I want to get caught up on, so instead of doing emails and taking phone calls, I’m going to try and get away and just read for a while.

And that, of course, means I don’t think I’ll take the time to create a new blog post. Instead, I’ll let you YOU create it. One simple question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It might be something about craft, or a trick you learned, something about writing quickly or leaving writer’s block behind. It could be advice on creating characters, or raising the stakes, or leaving people with a memorable lesson. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) some great bit of wisdom that you took to heart and you noticed it changed your work. Share it with us. Just click on the “comment” bar below and offer the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received. You’re welcome to give us context, and tell who said it and what the circumstances were, if you want to — but don’t feel you HAVE to. You’re welcome to just offer one sentence with the advice you’ve got.

I do this once each year or so, and I have gleaned some wonderful tips from people over the years. Would love to hear what you have to share with your fellow writers. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

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  • Gary Neal Hansen says:

    You have two voices in your head. One is the writer. The other is the editor. When writing, send the editor to the other room. They have to take turns.

  • “Join a critique group, attend writers’ conferences, and network, network, network.” (Vonda Skelton)

  • Carson Flanders says:

    Put down the tequila so you don’t write the same thing twice!

  • Write every day. Kill your darlings. Pressure makes diamonds.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      For those who don’t know what “kill your darlings” means, have a look at what Ann Lamott had to say in BIRD BY BIRD. (The quote is not from her. It’s usually cited to either Allen Ginsburg or William Faulkner, and a number of authors have used it, including Stephen King and Eudora Welty. But the person who first said it was British writing coach Arthur Quiller Couch, a hundred years ago in a lector entitled “On Style.” If you’re ever on Jeopary, and the clue is “Kill your darlings,” you now have the question to win — “Who is Arthur Quiller Couch?”)

  • Carson Flanders says:

    Write like your mom and dad are dead. (This is especially helpful when writing sex scenes.)

  • Jane Gaugler Daly says:

    Write every day. Even if it’s merely a well-thought out email, make it the best it can be. Take every opportunity to write.

  • Carson Flanders says:

    Write as though your mom and dad are dead. (Especially helpful with sex scenes.)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes. Especially with sex scenes or, in a nonfiction book, anything to do with your family.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Don’t try to write like your favorite writer. Instead, focus your energy on discovering and developing your own personal style. There’s nothing new under the sun, so the only unique thing you have to offer is yourself and your voice.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s interesting advice, Robin. I think we tend to begin writing by mimicking our favorite authors, and there’s nothing wrong in doing so. But eventually you’ll get to a place where you figure out how YOU need to sound.

  • Ellen Gee says:

    Never underestimate the intelligence of your reader.

  • Inverse Ministries says:

    “Get your B.I.C.” (butt in chair)

  • Susan M. Watkins says:

    “Just because your work was rejected doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It may simply mean your manuscript didn’t meet their current needs.” There’s never a reason to give up. Diamonds are mined. Passionately pursue like-minded publishers while also preparing yourself for occasional rejection. It’s the nature of the industry. By believing in your own talent, you WILL be published. I write word pictures, giving the reader opportunity to engage their imagination while I take them to the destination. Final analysis: I’m a literary artist painting with the stroke of a pen.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Susan. And yes, getting rejected may simply mean you haven’t hit the right person or house yet, OR that you haven’t quite got a handle on your story or topic in exactly the right way. (Not sure I agree on the “never a reason to give up” part, but we won’t argue here.)

  • Liam Sweeny says:

    Read your words aloud. If they trip your tongue, rewrite the passage so that they don’t. – I’ve heard that a few places.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes. Great advice, Liam. Say your words out loud, and your ear will tell you what doesn’t work. This is especially helpful for novelist — make sure to act out ALL your dialogue.

  • Jamie Chavez says:

    If you’re stuck/blocked, step away from the computer. Don’t force it. Go take a walk or a nap or run errands. It’ll come. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      My twist on that, Jamie — step away and start talking it through, out loud (no matter who is around and will think you’re crazy). In working it through out loud, often the next step will become clear to you, and you can go back to typing. Thanks.

  • Rajdeep Paulus says:

    “Good is better than fast.” Can’t recall who said it… Chip Something. 😉

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes. My favorite bit of advice, and I believe it to be true in publishing. It’s almost a LAW in publishing — “good” is better than “fast” in this business. Appreciate you sharing that, Raj.

  • Henry McLaughlin says:

    “Get up earlier.” from DiAnn Mills after I whined about not having enough time to write. Inspired to do just that by getting up at 4:00 a.m. and discovering 1.5 hours of dedicated writing time before going to my then day job.

  • Patricia Zell says:

    The best advice came from one of my writing instructors–“Cut out most of the -ly words.” I’d like to give a piece of advice to novelists who would like to see their books become films. Remember that film is a visual medium–give screenwriters plenty to work with by creating stories that can be told with pictures. A story that is based mostly on words and emotions doesn’t translate well into film.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I love the “ly” advice, Patricia. Thanks — most writing is better without a bunch of adverbs. And good advice about words and emotion — proving that novels and films share many qualities, but are entirely different mediums that require different skills.

  • “Write the story between the quotation marks.” Rachel Hauck at the Novel Writers Beach Retreat in Daytona Beach last July.

  • Consider starting your novel in chapter two. (James Scott Bell)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah — start in the middle of the action, instead of giving us a bunch of background info, Richard. Good advice. Thanks.

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