editing · Writing · Writing Career

Learn to Take Your Own Advice

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I still have bits and pieces of shorts I wrote when I was young, and somewhere buried in a notebook, I have a “Noir” story I tried to write in high school. My heart was in the right place, but my skills were lagging behind.

I got more serious about writing in my 20s, even as I pursued my teaching degree and taught professionally. In 2013 we moved to Wyoming, and I took a break from teaching. I got my first traditional publishing opportunity the following year, and after that, I took a lot of classes on writing fiction and comics. I still take classes whenever I can.

After someone was a jerk online last week, one piece of advice I always share with creator friends kept echoing in my head.

“You should hire an editor.”

While I still don’t think it’s right to be an asshole on online (people brush it off, but studies show online negativity can have a heavier impact than face-to-face interactions), I’ve been wondering why this tiny bit of advice was so controversial for some.

But that reaction did get me thinking about one thing I’ve noticed in the past 7 years in fiction/comics/blog editing and writing.

Letting others look at your work is difficult.

There’s a fear there, one that I often share, that if you let someone else influence your work or point out the flaws, they’ll end up chipping away at the parts of the work that make it yours.

While I understand that fear, I don’t think it’s completely true. You do have to grow thick enough skin to know when and where to stand up for your work, but most of the time your editors, writer friends, and artist friends giving feedback want to enhance your message.

But every time I get my nerve up and offer my scripts or stories up for critique, the work gets better, not worse. My editors and friends notice small details I can fix, characters I can deepen and imagery I can strengthen. As long as I stick to my guns, my voice does not get lost in the editing process.

I used to think when I said, “You should hire an editor,” I was trying to self-promote. I thoroughly enjoy the process of editing and helping others present their best possible story. But when I give that advice, even if I’d love to edit for my friends/acquaintances, that’s never my aim.

I don’t care if they hire me. I want them to seek feedback because I know it’ll help improve their story, and possibly, their writing process. It’s always helped me put a better foot forward with my own stories.

Putting yourself out there is hard, but worth it.

It’s also necessary for growth. And it’s often essential in comics because you usually work with a creative team.

Building the muscles for taking and integrating feedback will help you work with others. I’ve edited for people who are generous and kind, even when they have a conflict with the feedback I’ve shared. I’ve also given input to writers early in their careers who don’t think they need any help. These are always instances where they asked me to edit or review their work, so it was never unsolicited critique.

Learning to take feedback with equal parts grace and stubbornness is a good skill to have. Stand by what you want to keep in your story and fix what you can to make it better.

Writing Guide

4 Pieces of Bad Writing Advice You Should Not Listen To

I’ve been in and out of various online and offline writing communities for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve seen some great writing advice and some really bad writing advice. 

Bad writing advice is often offered with good intentions. It sounds like good writing advice, but at best it isn’t really practical advice and at worst…it’s the blind leading the blind. I want to share four pieces of bad writing advice that I wish I had never listened to. I hope they help you avoid any pitfalls! 

Only Write When You Feel The Flow

I love those moments when I feel like everything is flowing, the story is coming alive, but if I only wrote when I felt like that, I would nothing finished or published. 

I think it was Neil Gaiman who talked about how if you go back and read your writing during those moments of “flow” versus the moments you just force yourself to get it down on paper, you’re not going to see a huge difference in quality.

Another tip with this: I have had a lot of writer friends over the years who wait to feel inspired. Many of them have never finished a project. You have to work when you feel it and when you don’t. Pushing through is the only way to get to the other side of things and finish your work.

Long, Flowery Text Is Better Than Basic or Accessible Writing

It’s easy to romanticize the writers that filled their stories with flowery prose. To be honest, the flowery stuff never really appealed to me, even when most of my friends were in a phase where they would be looking through their thesaurus more than actually writing.

Think about the last book you read that you loved. Did you have to read the text multiple times to understand what they were trying to communicate? Most of the time the answer is no. 

Good writing is usually concise and accessible. Even if you use big, beautiful descriptive words in your sentences, your entire sentence shouldn’t be filled with those big words. You should contextual cues and other more accessible writing so the reader can figure out what you’re saying, without having to pull out their dictionary. 

Write What You Know 

Okay, this advice works within reason. It is way easier to write cultures you are familiar with, to write about your own experiences and such. 

But do you think George Lucas knew what it was like to fight in a revolutionary space war? No. He pulled inspiration from a variety of sources and crafted a story he wanted to tell. It’s okay to break out of the box of what you know and go beyond it. 

If you plan to write a culture or experience that is very different from your own, you just need to do your research. Study that culture and talk to people with those experiences. One thing that is important to remember, is people are going to figure it out if you write from a place that isn’t authentic. 

I grew up the mountain west and when I read books or see TV shows that portray where I grew up in a way that’s not authentic, it sticks out like a sore thumb and oftentimes ruins the experience for me. That’s something to keep in mind as you write outside your box. Figure out how to make your writing as authentic as you can.

You Aren’t A Writer Until You’ve Been Published

I was sort of lucky, when I started really pursuing writing, I had a short piece of fiction published pretty quickly. It was validating, but that did not mean I was not a writer up until that point. I’ve sort of felt like I was a writer and a storyteller most of my life. Even after that initial publication, I’ve had other contracts and “sure thing” opportunities fall through, I’ve dealt with a lot of kind and not-so-kind rejections. 

That’s sort of the nature of the beast, when you’re a writer.

You don’t need someone else to validate you. If you write, you’re a writer.