It's cold today on the playground. There's ice on the slide, the merry-go-round has frozen in place and I double-dog dare you to lick the support posts on the swing set. But I understand it's balmy compared to where our guest blogger lives, so please give a warm Writing Playground welcome to Kylie Brant.
The Worst Writing Advice EVAH!
Thanks for the invite to the playground! I promise to play nice (mostly) and share my toys. And advice. I will dispense that freely, both good and bad. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.
I have been writing since the dawn of time. (By that I mean, pre-Internet, which is much the same thing.) So without going into my whole pathetic road to publishing story, suffice it to say when I started writing, information and networking weren’t as easily achieved as they are now. Especially since I belonged to no writing groups and knew no one else who was writing.
So if you’re picturing me stumbling around in the dark, archaic keyboard in one hand and blindfold in the other, you’re pretty close. Being absolutely ignorant of publishing and the writing process in general, I was a sponge when it came to soaking up whatever writing advice I did happen across. Trouble was, so much of it was bad.
1) Write what you know.
Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? And rather sage. How can you write what you don’t know? Start with what you’re most familiar with. There’s just one problem.
I don’t know anything.
At least nothing others would find interesting. Now if you’re looking for tidbits on how to make dinner for seven with a chicken breast, six carrots and a box of Cheerios, I’m your gal. Or if you’re wondering how long the dog can survive in the dryer when it’s turned on, I have some experience in that area. (Don’t worry, it was on air fluff. And the culprit got dog doo-doo duty for a month.) But something interesting enough to fill a book and catch the attention of an editor? Not so much.
So I started out writing my first manuscript with this huge albatross around my neck. I wasn’t writing about what I know. I must be doomed to failure. But a funny thing happened in the course of writing that book. And the next twenty-seven. I discovered that whoever came up with that clever maxim had it backward. What’s most important is knowing what you write. And luckily in this time of the Internet, research has never been easier.
I read a lot of research books for my stories, but my best information comes from experts in the area I’m writing about. Whatever the area of interest, chances are yahoogroups has a group for it. Add message boards, chat rooms, professional online organizations and you have a wide spectrum of places to ask for expertise in various areas. My current trilogy from Silhouette Romantic Suspense involves a SWAT squad. Other than experience with my kids (tactical techniques may differ only slightly) my knowledge in that area was zilch. So I sent an email to a closed group for hostage negotiators, explained to the moderator I only needed him to post my plea for help, and received four offers from SWAT personnel around the country to answer my questions. You just have to be creative.
2) First you need an agent.
(Insert rude noise here.) Wrong! It’s all about knowing your market. Can an agent get you read faster once your manuscript hits an editor’s desk? Perhaps. But is having an agent going to make the editor predisposed to buy your work? Not so much.
I sold twenty-five books to Silhouette without an agent. For category, agents are not necessary. And if you’re writing single title, there are many sources of information to discover whether the house you’re targeting limits material to agented authors only. Many of them do, but there are several that don’t. I received six invitations to submit my single title project before I signed with an agent. I needed her to negotiate my eventual contract. And I worship her for the lucrative deal she got me by selling my foreign rights to Germany. But I didn’t need an agent to get my manuscript in front of an editor.
3) You can’t do that in xxxx genre.
Most of those rules and regulations others tell you about don’t exist. Voice is important. Mechanics are a must. But take it from someone who has had heroines who are assassins, heroes who are criminals, foreign heroes, characters who are artists and musicians, a lot of the no-no’s you hear about for storyline are not true. As Silhouette’s Leslie Wainger is found of saying, it’s all in the execution. Now there are a few no-brainers. If it’s a romance, there has to be a happily-ever-after. You can’t throw your hero/heroine under a bus. Or if you do, they have to survive with most of their body parts intact.
4) You need (insert phrase of your choice) notecards, story boards, outlines, story maps, character charts—or else you’ll never get from point A to point B in your story.
The first writing conference I ever attended was the most terrifying experience of my life. I came out of every workshop feeling like a failure. Worse than that--a fraud. Somehow I’d managed to sell two books by fooling the editor into thinking I knew how to write an outline prior to beginning a story. What if they found out I didn’t have a clue? Surely they’d never buy anything from me again!
So I dutifully went home and started charting. And outlining. And I made some forms. Sometimes I even filled them out. The most liberating experience in my writing career was when I stopped trying to fool myself.
I am not a plotter.
I will never be a plotter. I no longer aspire to be a plotter, the way I no longer aspire to walk on five-inch heels. When something is painful for you, it feels great to give it up.
But don’t call me a pantser. I’m an ‘organic writer’. Don’t you love that term? It means--that’s right--I have no idea what’s going to happen between chapters four through eighteen and you know what? I’m okay with that.
There’s nothing wrong with going to those workshops and learning about other writers’ processes, as long as you remember each process is individual to the writer. Feel free to take the ideas home. Try them on. Adapt them. See if they fit. And if they don’t, toss them aside. Keep trying until you find what works for you.
So let’s dish. What was the worst advice you ever received? Or the best? I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of Terms of Engagement, book two in my Alpha Squad trilogy to one lucky commenter today!
P.S. I forgot to include earlier that Kylie has a website and also blogs on the fabulous Riding with the Top Down blog.