The Best Advice That I Can’t Give

In trying to come up with a subject for this week’s post, I began to reflect on what the best advice I ever got about writing was. I came up with two things, but I can’t give complete information on either of them. But I will share with you what I can.

I think, like most prospective writers, I spent many years starting and not completing many manuscripts. I’d read many books about writing and taken writing classes, but I was still unable to cross that finish line and type ‘The End’ on anything but the shortest of short stories. Then I read an interview with a newly published first-time author who credited her ability to finish her first novel to a book she had read. Therein lies the problem: I can’t remember the name of the book. I think the author of that writing book was named John Gardner, and I checked on Google and found there is an author by that name (now deceased) who did write two books about writing: On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction. Were one of those books the book the newly published author mentioned? I have no idea. I know I have neither of those books on my bookshelves, but perhaps I checked it out of the library at the time instead of purchasing it.

So while I can’t tell you what the book was, I can tell you the salient advice it gave: Write a page a day, every day, and at the end of a year, you will have a completed book. Maybe it even expounded on that and advised that two pages a day would get you two books in one year’s time.

I think something clicked in me when I read that. It made writing a book seem far less overwhelming. A page a day? Easy. Ten or fifteen minutes on a good day. A lot longer than that on a not-so-good-day, but as long as I knew I could stop when I reached the bottom of the page on a bad day, I could get it done. Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to stop at just one page and there have been glorious days when ten to twenty pages just flow from my fingertips. The important thing to remember on those very productive days is that just because you’ve written twenty pages, you can’t take the next 19 days off. Consistency is the key, that and perseverance. You write your minimum page a day even on those days when you’re beat and you’ve fallen into bed before you realized you didn’t do your writing yet, so you get up and get it done. The reward comes when you get to type those six little all-important letters: The End.

The second piece of good advice came from a book I do still own, but I have no idea how I first came across it. It is called Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham, and was first published in 1968. I never had any driving desire to write for children or teenagers, but I think I picked it up because I thought that books for those ages have to be pretty engaging since most kids have pretty short attention spans, so I thought it might contain some ideas that would translate well to adult books. I haven’t looked at this book for years but flipping through it today, you can tell it’s pretty outdated in many areas; after all, it was written at a time when people wrote on typewriters, not computers, and you could still send actual manuscripts directly to a publisher — no agent needed — and had to include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope, in case you are familiar with that term) because there was no such thing as e-mail, and mail was just that, mail, not snail mail (it was, in fact, much faster than it is these days).

The thing in this book that I found helpful was the “Twelve-Point Recipe for Plotting” in Chapter 12. While with the previous advice, it was my faulty memory that kept me from being able to share its source with you, in this case it’s my niggling sense of ethics that’s preventing me from reproducing that information here. It is, after all, copyrighted material. I believe the author is dead (which doesn’t void the copyright), and that the book is probably out of print, but as someone who is now a published writer (even if it’s only in e-Books), I feel obligated to show respect for the author’s work and copyright. Looking at the ‘recipe’ now, I can say it’s pretty simplistic: twelve questions whose answers would basically give you an outline for your book. But I am not one who does well with outlines, and I think that is why I responded favorably to the question format. The questions are pretty basic: the main character, the antagonist, the main character’s goals, obstacles, and struggles, what happens in the climax, the outcome of that, and the theme of the book. Prior to reading this book, I had been a ‘fly-by -the-seat-of-my-pants’ kind of writer, just sitting down and going at it. These questions, which I no longer formally use, gave me a better sense of direction and were what saw me through to completing a book-length manuscript for the very first time.

I am not promoting these books as something a newbie writer should purchase. To the best of my knowledge, the information I’ve encapsulated here is the best that they contain. However, I did check on Amazon, and Gardner’s book On Writing Fiction is available there (though I’m not sure that’s the one with the page-a-day advice) and Wyndham’s book is also available from 1 cent upwards (of course you end up paying, what is it, $2.99 or $3.99 for shipping now, so you end up paying 300 to 400% more for the shipping than the book).

So there you have it, what I considered the best writing advice I ever received: Write at least a page a day unfailingly, and have at least a notion of where you want to end up with it.

The best news of all for writers these days is that you don’t have to wait for the powers that be at some publishing house to accept your book or send you into the depths of despair when they reject it. You can publish it yourself on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or one of the other e-publishers, and see where the chips fall.

Happy writing!

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