Writing Advice

Keep Calm and Write


By Gina Burgess

Here’s Randy Ingermanson’s advice to himself before he became rich and famous. At least it’s the advice he would have given himself when he was young and inexperienced. It is from Jerry Jenkin’s blog.

You get good at writing by following these three simple steps:

1) Write a lot. The more you write, the more you’ll tune in to your unique voice and the better you’ll get.

2) Get critiqued occasionally. You should never pay any attention to what your mother says about your writing, or what anyone who loves you says about your writing, because all those people are liars. You should pay attention only to people who know what good writing is and who also know how to critique bad writing. Many who know good writing don’t have any idea how to critique bad writing and will not be able to help you.

Also be aware that many people who know how to critique bad writing would not recognize good writing if it stabbed them in the eye. This is tragic, but deal with it. You are looking for somebody who has both of these skills, and those people are rare.
You need to be told when your writing is bad and why it’s bad, because when you start writing, your work will be awful and you will imagine it’s brilliant. You also need to be told when your writing is brilliant, because by the time your writing is brilliant, you will have been told so many times that your writing is bad that you’ll imagine you are the worst writer who ever lived.

It’s just a fact that all bad writers think they are amazing and all great writers think they are terrible. And that’s why you need to be critiqued occasionally. Don’t do this every day. It hurts too much. A little critique goes a long way. [Unless it is from a good editor or writing coach.]

3) Study the craft of writing in books, lectures, or wherever else you can learn it.

You most especially need to do this after getting critiqued.

You can’t figure it out on your own. Find a book that explains in clear words how to do right what you are doing wrong. When you finish the book, you will again believe in yourself enough to go back to step 1 and write a bunch more.

And have fun!

So what are you not doing from this short list that you need to be doing?

Are you making excuses and letting life get in the way of your writing time? I know a fellow whose life was extremely complicated and he was not a morning person. But a story was burning his soul, so he got up at 5 a.m. and wrote for two hours every day—even Sundays. Carve out time for your writing even if it is just one day a week. But it is better to do it every day for at least twenty minutes.

Getting critiqued? If you do not belong to a writers’ group then email me today. We’ll get you plugged in. A writers’ group is not like iron sharpening iron where sparks fly about you. It is encouraging and guiding. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. The best thing about editors and writing coaches is that they can tell you how to write better not just tell you what’s wrong and expect you to go fix it. Plus, a good editor or writing coach will encourage you along the way.

Studying writing craft through books, web-eds, or wherever else? If you really want to learn how to write well in your own voice in your own style then find an editor that will critique your pieces of fiction and non-fiction that you write. A good editor can teach you a mountain of craft geared specifically to your style and voice—a thousand words for twenty dollars more or less. That’s an investment that can payoff ten times what you spend.

So write something on that chalk board up there. What sort of advice would you give yourself five years ago? Ten years ago?


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