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1. Do Not Do This For the Money

You probably know this already, but let's just be clear: very few people get rich writing fiction. Most novelists never earn enough to quit their day jobs. In fact, many first-time novelists never manage to sell a second book. If you're looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, this isn't it.

Which is not to say you shouldn't aspire to quit your day job. Heck, I aspire to write a masterpiece and become the next J. K. Rowling. Who wouldn't want to earn their money doing something they love? Just don't count on it, that's all I'm saying.

And don't let the desire to earn money drown out the little muse that started you writing in the first place. Write smart, yes. Learn the markets, learn the business, learn how to make money: do all those things. But don't lose sight of your muse in the process. If you do, writing will become just another day job, and honestly: there are day jobs that pay far better.

2. Your Stories are not Babies; They're Guinea Pigs

This is a difficult thing for new writers to learn. We pour blood and sweat and tears into our manuscripts, and then our critique group comes along and tells us they're trash and need completely rewritten.

(If you're a new writer, and your critique group doesn't tell you this, you probably need a new critique group. It's great to hear that you write brilliantly, but you need critiquers who can spot the flaws in your manuscript and help you fix them.)

Now I'm going to tell you a secret: About half of all feedback you will receive in critique groups is utterly worthless. It won't help you improve the story. In fact, if you follow it, it will completely destroy the story you were trying to create.

Here's the catch: You will not learn how to recognize which half of the critique feedback is junk without mangling a few stories in the process. Like a child learning to ride a bicycle, you have to wobble and fall a few times before you know how to counterbalance properly.

If you love your stories too much to tamper with them, you will never learn to tamper properly. My advice is to dive in with the shears and a pruning hook and really gut the thing. What you end up with might be worse than what you started with, that's true. But it's not like you have to delete the original version, and anyway, the single greatest benefit of critiquer feedback comes when you're writing the next story.

3. There is No Secret Ingredient

There's no magic formula that's going to make all your manuscripts brilliant from now on. It's not just about characterization, or plotting, or prose style, or whether you write in first or in third person. It's also not about whether you write on recycled paper with a ballpoint pen or in a darkened room with your screen angled North-by-Northwest. And it's certainly not about convincing everyone else that what happens to work for you is what they should be doing as well.

There is not secret ingredient.

I'm saying this because it is a common mishap among new writers to learn something fabulous that completely revolutionizes their writing, and to consequently assume that if everyone else would just apply the same technique, their writing would be revolutionized, too.

Well, maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't. The problem with those pesky Rules of Writing people are so fond of quoting in online critiques is that writing is a complex, fluid, and very personal thing. Space Opera requires a different style of expression than Magic Realism. Descriptive techniques that bring a Sword and Sorcery novella to life would utterly evicerate an Interstitial story. Just because we all put words on the page doesn't mean we're doing anything remotely like the same thing.

Writing is about trial and error. It's about finding what works for you and helping other people to do the same. It's about murdering your darlings and waking up in the morning to discover that they were really only guinea pigs anyway. And it's about having fun.

So go have fun, folks. And don't worry that you haven't found the secret ingredient for that yet. There isn't one.


Jun. 13th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
I was just paid more in advance money for a freelance project than I've made in 7 years writing fiction. ;-D
Jun. 13th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Amen. Especially about money. There are thousands of ways that are easier to make money than writing.

As far as I can tell, you have to: write, rewrite, send finished project out, start new project. Repeat as often as necessary.
Jun. 13th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
As far as I can tell, you have to: write, rewrite, send finished project out, start new project. Repeat as often as necessary.

Yup. Heinlein once said something very similar. Except that Heinlein argues against the rewriting portion of it, which is still a subject of considerable debate in some circles ;)
Jun. 13th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
Well... when you're Heinlein, or Silverberg, you're Heinlein or Silverberg. The rest of us rewrite. :-)
Jun. 13th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that's often my philosophy as well.

But then I fall into the trap of reworking a story in infinite variations, until it is no longer recognizable as the same story I started with, and then I think: You know what, Heinlein's got a point.

In the end, I think rewriting is an 'in moderation' kind of thing, and the trick lies in figuring out whether you've gone overboard.
Jun. 13th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
Critique groups are a difficult experience. When you post something there seems to be a feeling that comments for improvement MUST be made--even if the story doesn't need any fixing. (I see this on other's work so I'm not touting my own here.) I've read perfectly good stories on critique groups only to find that others have commented to "fix" things--sometimes changing the entire tone or the entire story, sometimes just complaining! It's disheartening. I think everyone should participate a few times either as a reader and possibly once or twice with writing, but I've yet to find one that I really like. In the end, you are left on your own to make decisions--and worse, to learn.

I've learned a lot from critique groups, but not necessarily what I set out to learn!


I'm really disappointed to hear there is no magic formula. You've just ruined my day. :>)
Jun. 13th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
Critique groups
I had the benefit of a stellar writing group that included 2 editors, 3 other SFWA writers (including a Year's Best Fantasy Short Story Award winner), and a revolving cast of wannabees. One editor always attended, usually both. Most times, at least one SFWA writer came.

I found 1/3 of the critiques useful. The editors' critiques always fell in that third. The SFWA writers' critiques usually did. The wannabees rarely did.

About stories being not babies but guinea pigs: One memorable comment was, "You come here with this story saying, 'Look at my beautiful baby,' and instead we tell you, 'No. Your baby is ugly, and you dress it funny.'"
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Critique groups
"You come here with this story saying, 'Look at my beautiful baby,' and instead we tell you, 'No. Your baby is ugly, and you dress it funny.'"

Hahaha! As the mother of a six-month-old, I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled by that statement. But yes: critique groups feel a lot like that sometimes. ;)
Jun. 15th, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
I'm really disappointed to hear there is no magic formula. You've just ruined my day. :>)

Sorry :(

Would it make you feel better if I sent you virtual chocolate cupcakes?
Jun. 15th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
Yes!!! I love chocolate. Even virtual chocolate!!!
Jun. 14th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing :)
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Anytime :)

Glad it was helpful.
Jun. 15th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Good things to keep in mind. :)
Jun. 16th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Nancy! :)




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