Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What is the Best Writing Advice You Have Ever Received?

Another Wednesday, another chance to be heard loud and clear.

Also, perhaps more importantly, it is makeover night on America's Next Top Model, and frankly I couldn't be more excited. Who is going to freak the blank out when Tyra decides she wants to pull out the clippers and make someone bald? Will it be Natasha the Texan/Russian mail order bride or will it be one of the two plus sized models? Which top model aspirant will be the subject of Jay's wrath when she starts getting teary at her fallen hair thus proving that she doesn't want this enough and doesn't fully appreciate how many thousands of young girls would love to be in her shoes and therefore is not top model material???? I may die of anticipation.

Anyway, here is your actual query on which to utter a rejoinder:

What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received ever?

Here's mine: "Writers write." So simple. So profound. So maddeningly ambiguous. Sigh.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Nathan Bransford said...

I have been informed by my girlfriend that the makeover episode is not until next week. HOW WILL I GO ON??

adrienne said...

Can't we just discuss Top Model instead?

Nathan Bransford said...


Who am I to stop an ANTM discussion? There are so many things to discuss I don't even know where to begin.

ERozanski said...

My tweeners are also dying of anticipation of the next ANTM episode...not sure what this says about your viewing habits:)

Writing advice...the best advice I ever heard was from Patricia Potter. She told me to write every day, no matter what. Even if it was only one paragraph. I'll admit that this is hard for me to do. With a family and all of their 'stuff' my writing is often the first thing pushed to the side.

Another tidbit of wisdom I've heard is if you believe you are suffering from writer's block, you must be writing the wrong stuff. You may need to ditch a character or a plot point to get back on track. Shake it up a bit.

Also, and this one has never been a problem, read and then read more. The only downside to that is now I find it really difficult to read for fun. I'm always picking things apart if I'm reading a book in 'my genre.' That may be why I dove in the YA world so easily with my old job. I'm not a YA writer, so I could read those books for fun.

Anonymous said...

i was goign to comment on the actual question, but now that i see how many people in the world care enough about prospective models to know their names...well, i'm goign to pass on commenting and go sautee my eyeballs in olive oil and feed them to my dog.

what the hell happened to people?

sartre was right all along...

B.E. Sanderson said...

Best piece of advice I ever received, I got from the man who months later became my husband. He said, "If you want to write, quit talking about it and write." Sounds pretty simple, but it was like a lightbulb over my head. I'd been talking about writing a book since I was a teen, and after twenty year, I still hadn't finished one. (BTW, I finished my first draft of my first book 4 months after we were married.)

Nathan Bransford said...


If ANTM is a harbinger of the apocalypse, I say bring on the locusts.

Happy Days said...

"Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open." Stephen King

Put the critic in the closet and write it for yourself first. Write it for the reader the next time through.

leatherdykeuk said...

Terry Pratchett.

Write 400 words a day, every day, even if you feel like poo.

zylaa said...

I'd like to note that most of the best advice quoted here has to do with actually putting pen to paper.
Therefore, I shall not contribute to the repetition.

Terry Pratchett! Yes!

Christopher M. Park said...

Trust the reader. You don't have to spell everything out for them (overwriting). I've heard this advice from many professional sources.


Lauren said...

I read Robert Heinlein's "rules for writing" in an Absolute Write thread, and quickly grabbed a sheet of paper on which to scribble them down. I still keep that piece of paper next to me here at work so that these words are always near me, either physically or subconsciously:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Nice and simple.

L.C.McCabe said...


I have a couple:

"Write it down, don't write it right."

In the drafting and creative phase you need to let go of your inner editor and get your thoughts down on paper. Later you can futz with things, move them around, strike them, etc.

Oh and Anton Chekhov's supposedly said for novelists to "throw out their first three pages."

That advice actually came in handy recently as I was struggling to make my first chapter work. I finally just chucked it and started with chapter 2.

It reads much smoother now.

Oh and my favorite quote comes from the late Michael Shurtleff: "Conflict is drama."


Stephen Parrish said...

The best advice I received was from my father, who put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "Learn to type."

Jennifer McK said...

Nora Roberts.
"You can't edit a blank page."

I'm sure she wasn't the first one to say this, but she's the first one I heard credited with the advice.
It's gotten me through some discouraging moments.....weeks....months.

Roxan said...

To say the most with the least amount of words.

Janet said...

Aim for clarity. Tell the story in a clear, comprehensible manner.

Both Asimov and Orson Scott Card have given that advice in one form or another and I have taken it to heart.

Steve Axelrod said...

Somerset Maugham: "If it should occur to you to cut something -- do so."
Charlie Kaufman, sreenwriter, asked his teacher if he was any good or not. The man said, "That's none of your business."
Elmore Leonard: "Leave out the parts people skip."

Maia Caron said...

I can't wait for the Russian mail order bride to get her wild hair cut off.

The best writing advice I read was in Sol Stein's STEIN ON WRITING. He wrote, "What counts is not what is said but the effect of what is meant." That has helped me remember that writing is all about creating 'moments.'

KingM said...

3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.

I always thought this advice from Heinlein was lousy. It may have worked for him, but most people's first drafts are better served as paper airplanes than submissions. Learning how to rewrite is what separates the amateur from the pro.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Writing is a CRAFT.

I think one of my profs along the way said that. Lewis Nordan? Reginald McKnight? Chuck Kinder?

One or all, probably.

Conduit said...

My little nugget wasn't a piece of advice, as such, more an insightful observation. If I may share the anecdote...

About ten years ago I was struggling to break into music composition for film and TV (you think publishing's a tough business? Try film...). I was making a little headway, had done some theatre work and a little TV, but I got a real break and scored a very (very, very) low budget independent movie. As a result I got to attend a well known film festival as the movie was getting its premiere there.

I was at one of the festival's many schmoozing events where hundreds of hopeful film-makers were forcing their scripts into the hands of anyone who stood still long enough to be snared. I came to this event with the idea of selling my compositional services but instead found myself standing in a corner feeling frightened, inadequate and hopelessly out of place.

I was considering just skulking out the door when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see a certain well known director smiling at me.

"It's alright, son," he said. "We're all charlatans here."

If I find myself needing to justify my attempts at writing, if I feel I have no business putting words on a page, I remember that brief sentence.

Oh, and William Goldman's gem about the movie business, which I think can be applied in many aspects of life: "Nobody knows anything."

Anonymous said...

Write in the morning
Write in the night.
Make it not boring
Make it just right.

Breathe in the feelings
And spell them all out.
What are the dealings?
Let your soul shout.

And where is Nathan
When I need his voice?
He's watching the Russian
Make her hair choice!

My friend, Mr. Bransford!
You need to focus!
You mentioned yourself:
Those models are locust!

Pay more attention
To this wonderful blog,
If you're with the Russian
I'am not gonna log!

Like butter.

Nathan Bransford said...


Amazing! I think I'm getting a little verklempt!

spyscribbler said...

Write 100 words a day. Of course, we write much more than that often enough, but it really helps keep the ball rolling at all times, even when one is "too busy."

Also, Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer taught me how to ... um, read like a writer. And learn from it. :-)

Tori Scott said...

When I first started writing, I was cranking out 20 to 25 pages a day. Then I started learning the "rules." And my writing slowed to 10 pages, 5 pages, sometimes 0 pages a day.

Fortunately, a published author sent me a quote (and I have no idea who to attribute it to) that said, "There are only two rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

That really helped me regain my perspective. Everyone harps about POV--but that rule doesn't bother Nora Roberts. As a reader I never, ever noticed the head hopping. She told such a damned good story with rich, engaging characters that I wouldn't have cared if the POV switched every other sentence.

Yes, I still pay attention to POV in my books, but if I want two POV's in a scene, fine. I put two in. What I'm after is a damned good story. I'll let an editor decide what the rules are.

Better Than Waitressing said...

C'mon, Sartre-quoter. We're talking ANTM here, the Gone With the Wind of reality television, not its Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, which surely must be the unwashed scrotum that is Search For the Next Pussycat Doll...

Anne-Marie said...

Write about what you know, and if you don't know, go find out.

I also like the idea of letting the first draft sit for a period of time- it's amazing how bad something looks days or weeks later when you go back and want to clean it up.

I'm also quite fond whoever spoke of writing what you like and want to read.

barista brat said...

"quit reading other people's blogs when you're supposed to be writing" is prolly the best bit of wisdom i've heard, although i have a hard time following it!

BernardL said...

Best advice I ever received: get rid of weak verbs and the word that in your writing.

adrienne said...

I'd love to comment on the best writing advice. But ANTM starts in half an hour and I have to prepare myself! Sorry.

Gerb said...

From Diana Gabaldon: "Read. Write. Don't stop."

From Donald Maass: "Conflict on every page!"

From Jennie Crusie: "Don't look down."

Gerri said...

I can't point to just one thing. But I'll share my favorites.

"George, you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it." -- Harrison Ford

"If you want to send a message, call Western Union." - Samuel Goldwyn

"As authors we like our protagonists. We are tempted to protect them from trouble. That temptation must be resisted. Indeed, it is better to drive full speed into danger, laughing as you do it. A breakout (writer) is somewhat manical, possibly sadistic....She will discover what is the worst that can happen then make matters worse still.” –Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel.

"I write for the same reason I breathe–because if I didn't, I would die." –Isaac Asimov

Know your ending...or the river of your story may finally sink into the desert sands and never reach the sea.–Isaac Asimov

The first and the last quote have had the most impact on me in terms of writing craft. The others just stick with me.

A Paperback Writer said...

The best fiction-writing advice I received came from some textbook I year more than a decade ago: Show; don't tell.
The best non-fiction writing advice I've received came from my junior honors English teacer: Don't list sources unless you've quoted from them.
The first chunk of advice has made it so people like what I write. The second chunk got me through grad school.

Word verification: hsjutpoo = what an overly-tired agent slurs out about her slush pile

joe said...

My friend told me, "You've received fifty rejections. You think someone is trying to tell you something?"

CMonster said...


"You will write pages of beautiful, heart-searing, world-ending prose. And you will throw it out. Why? Because while it may move you, it does not move the story."

Getting over my fear of the delete button was a blessing, let me tell you.

bran fan said...

Best advice I ever got...

"Shut up and Write."

Anonymous said...

After having finished my first novel this year, the best advice I figured out for myself is: if you're stuck...MOVE ON. Skip to a scene that's more clear in your mind and give yourself a chance to sleep on the scene that's being contrary. That's how you keep your daily word count a-hoppin'.

This is is great question, BTW. :0)

Anonymous said...

Advice: Stop eating crayons.

Translation: Stop reading blogs and go write. Stop playing Minesweeper and go write. Stop surfing for internet porn and go write.

And yes; stop watching TV, even ANTM, and go write.

There's all kinds of useless, marginally-amusing activities that you can fill your life, and they're all as pointless as eating crayons was when you were a kiddie.

Stop it. Go write.

Um. And now this blog-addicted hypocrite shall go and do exactly that!

Anonymous said...

"If you don't enjoy writing it, how can you possibly expect someone to enjoy reading it?"

Michele Lee said...

Ann Rice (pre amazon rant) told me to be a writer I had to have courage. Courage to do my own thing, to fight through the process and to stand up for the story I want to tell, not the story the editors want to buy.

All things considered, having the guts to be wrong, the drive to writer despite a home life that leaves little time, and being one of the first to try new opportunities is simutaniously one of the hardest things and one of the most satisfying things about the path I chose. Courage indeed.

Julie said...

I have to pick one? Nah!

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." - Jack London

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit." – Aristotle.

"Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well." – Agatha Christie.

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shockproof shit-detector." – Ernest Hemingway.

"Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make…they make them for their own protection, and to hell with them." – William Saroyan

“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge.

Simon Haynes said...

"Treat your first novel like a clearing of the throat, your second like a refreshing glass of water and your third as the actual speech."

McKoala said...

"If you don't know what to say, just say it"

i.e. don't get fancy. Sound advice.

Heather said...

The best writing advice I've ever gotten came from Stephen King's "On Writing."

Don't edit before you're done. Editing an unfinished manuscript is an exercise in futility. How can you edit for plot consistency when you don't even know how the plot will end?

Anonymous said...

I liked Julie's collection of good advice, although there were some other good ones.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

Hard to top "Writers write," but here goes:

1. Learn the rules so you can break them on purpose rather than by accident.

2. No one is too good for a critique group.

3. Nothing trains a writer to write well better than writing short stories.


Anonymous said...

"Let go of the words and just tell the story."

Amateurs resist editing/rewriting/trashing scenes that just aren't working, because they spent so much time getting those words down they're afraid to lose them. Whatever needs to be changed to make the story right should be.

Luc2 said...

I like this post and the comments.

By the way, Tori Scott, I think that quote "There are only two rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are" is by Somerset Maugham.

Jen said...


>>If ANTM is a harbinger of the apocalypse, I say bring on the locusts.<<


Writing advice -- Put butt in chair and write.

writtenwyrdd said...

Best advice: Write. Don't make it perfect before you go on. Just keep writing.

Maya Reynolds said...

This one is on the wall in front of my laptop: Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Julie K. Rose said...

Best writing advice? It was a speaker at the SFWC this year (I'll have to dig his name out). "Writing is a journey of personal discovery and development. Getting published is just gravy after that." Incredibly valuable advice and perspective.

Alex J. Avriette said...

Kevin Smith (of Jay and Silent Bob fame) was asked in "Evening Harder" by a writer if he would read his (at the time half-finished). Smith had to stop the audience, who were booing loudly, to say "Just f---ing finish your manuscript." He repeated this several times, when the questioner began to explain why he hadn't finished, why Smith should read it, etc.

Sadly, this point was lost on me before I started writing. At the time, I didn't pay much attention to it. I can't just go and write a book, now can I? It turns out you can, of course. At the time, the thing that got me started writing was realizing that the process is cathartic.

So perhaps the initial advice should be something along the lines of "if you don't write it, whatever inspired you to write a book to begin with is going to give you an ulcer," followed up with "just write it already," when the inevitable doubt or procrastination sets in.

Twill said...

Kingm -

I believe that Heinlein's third Law must be understood in connection with a literate understanding of the second - "finish what you write".

It isn't finished until you've done the rewrite and polish.

After that, you don't try to mess with it except to editorial specs. Although for an unpublished author, specs from an agent constitute "editorial".

Anonymous said...

"Try to write at the same time every day." -Anne Lamott (Bird By Bird)
It is so true! Creativeness LOVES routine!

andrew said...

You're allowed to suck.

I got it from (incidentaly where I found a link to this blog too). I suffered from compulsive first chapter re writes until I heard this bit of advice, now I get more done...and he first chapters are better too.

Sean Craven said...

"Just because no-one can understand anything you say doesn't mean you're smart." -- My college roommate Gerry.

And the ones about omitting needless words and avoiding the passive voice? They've got me excited all over again -- I think I'm starting to understand what they really mean.

Bhalachandra said...

The best advice I ever got was not in words. My father, who was writer, never spoke to me (as I recall) about what makes good writing. Instead, he shared his enthusiasm of his craft with me. He made the world of words seem magical and powerful. The joy he demonstrated for writing, for me, was a lesson in itself.

Mi said...

I love how so many people say "just write" in some way or another.

George R R Martin (author of The Song of Fire and Ice series) gave me the best advice. Besides just writing, which seems to be a theme, he also said read.

Why is the best advice always so simple? Oh yeah, because it works, no matter how you think about it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails