The most important piece of writing advice that I know

There are thousands of books on writing out there, perhaps millions of articles and blog posts, and countless forums and writing groups where you can discuss the art and craft of writing with your fellow writers. There are workshops and conferences, apprenticeships and mentorships for writers who want to improve or those who want to help others improve, and creative writing classes in schools all over the world.

Sometimes, it’s all too much. It seems like every writer has a completely different approach to writing from the next. “Outline.” “Don’t outline.” “Follow your characters.” “Make them do what is necessary to advance the plot.” “Do a ton of research, even if you don’t use half of it.” “Do only the bare minimum of research necessary to make your story believable.” “Anyone who writes quickly is a hack.” “Anyone who takes their time never gets anything done.” “Share you book with 50 other people before you send it to the editor.” “Share it with maybe one other person and then send it to your editor.”

How is a writer — especially a new writer who doesn’t know much about the craft or business of writing — supposed to know what works and what doesn’t? Every writer who has ever felt the need to grace the unwashed masses with their opinions (like me, for example) sounds so certain that it can be hard to disagree, especially when they demonize or vilify anyone who disagrees.

In my experience, I’ve found that the most important piece of writing advice I have ever come across is this: “Do whatever works for you.”

Each writer is different. What works for me might not work for you, and vica versa. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no such thing as good or bad writing. It just means you need to realize that the path to writing something good is different for every writer. Certain paths are more widely traveled and perhaps more reliable than others, but ultimately there is no such thing as the definitive path that every writer MUST follow if they want to write anything worth reading.

Does outlining work for you?

Then do it.

Does organic writing work for you?

Then do that.

Does some sort of combination of outlining and organic writing work for you?

Then do it, even if no one else is doing it.

All writing advice you receive — whether it comes from a friend, a book, a member of your writing group, a magazine article or blog post, or from something else — must be judged by that criteria. If it does not work for you — even if it works for everyone else you know — then you don’t need to do it, no matter what anyone else says.

What is the most important piece of writing advice that you know?

-Tim

Limyaael’s Rants

I’ve read a lot of books and articles on writing. The ones I like the most I return to again and again, when I am stuck on a project, when I am bored with a project, or when I fall into complacency and laziness. The best writing guides are the ones that teach me something new every time I read them or enhance my understanding of a concept I already know.

The rants of Limyaael, a fantasy/fanfiction writer who unfortunately disappeared off the Internet in 2010, are one of my main writing guides. I discovered her rants a few years ago via the NaNoWriMo Fantasy subforum. I started reading and was hooked instantly. I now look upon her as something of a writing mentor, even though I have never met nor spoken to her even once.

In her rants, Limyaael clearly knows what she wants in a fantasy and isn’t afraid to say it. As a result, she is blunt and sometimes even vulgar in her language, yet it’s hard to dismiss her obviously well thought-out opinions. I don’t agree with everything she says, but most of what she says is spot-on and well worth taking into consideration during your own writing.

My favorite rants of hers are her rant on clichéd fantasy (her first rant, actually, and a good place to start if you want to read through them), her ten pieces of writing advice, her rant on avoiding archetypes, her rant on writing without an outline, and her rant on flaw-scrubbing. Almost all of her rants are good, however, so don’t just limit yourself to my favorites if you intend to read them. You don’t even have to read them in order, if you don’t want to.

What I like best about her rants is that she covers nearly every possible subject related to fantasy. She talks about themes, characters, worldbuilding, politics, religion, plotting, protagonists, antagonists, fantasy with and without magic, sexuality, non-human species, description, clothing, animals, the environment, geography . . . you name it, and she’s probably got a rant about it. It makes her one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever read, at least when it comes to giving out writing advice.

To be honest, I have not actually read any of her stories. That was primarily because I didn’t know where to look for them, but thanks to Curiosity Quills’ mirror, I will probably begin reading them soon. If she follows even half of her own advice, I imagine she’s probably one hell of a writer.

If you like to write at all, I suggest reading some of her rants. Even non-fantasy writers, I think, can find a wealth of great advice and ideas in some of her less fantasy-centric rants (such as her personal advice on writing, for example). Many of the principles behind her fantasy rants can probably be applied to other genres and types of writing, too.

If you need inspiration, ideas, or just a good old fashion kick in the butt, read Limyaael’s rants. You may not agree with everything she says, but if you seriously engage with her rants, you will come away a better writer for it.

-Tim