Tuesday, 2 May 2017

GUEST BLOG: Writing Tips with Robyn Bennis

Here at Falcata Times we love to chat to new authors and hear what they have to say about not only their work but the writing world at large. This time we were lucky enough to chat to debut author Robyn Bennis and see what writing tips she thought were passing on to writers around the world. Some may surprise you and others may be familiar, but for now we pass it on to Robyn to have her say:

"I have no love for broadly stated writing advice. In my experience, that sort of advice sits on a spectrum that runs from "utterly useless in respect to my writing" to "utterly useless in respect to anyone's writing."

There are a few nuggets of wisdom, however, which I've collected over the years, and which might just help you out. I offer them now in the dearest hope that you'll take them skeptically—but not so skeptically that you hurt my feelings.

Read broadly in genre, but selectively in quality.

If there's a prerequisite to being a writer, it's this. When people ask me how to become as good a writer as I am, I tell them… Okay, okay, let's be honest here. If people ever start asking me that, I will tell them to start by reading every good book they can get their hands on, especially in genres that they don't usually enjoy. The "good book" part of that advice, while admittedly subjective, is absolutely critical. Lucky for you, your writing is going to be just as subjective, so spend some time figuring out what sort of "good" you want your writing to be, whether that means mass-market appeal, critical acclaim, or something else entirely. In this way, you will gradually acquire a sharp instinct for quality in your chosen niche, build a foundation for frankly recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in your own writing, and avoid poisoning your mind with crap.

Invest in a whiteboard.

There was no single event which levelled-up my writing from merely good to big-five book deal quality, but if there was, it would be mounting a giant whiteboard on my apartment wall in direct contravention of my lease agreement. I placed it on a wall I no choice but to look at it every day, and whenever I ran into a seemingly unfixable plot hole or other impossible issue, I simply wrote the problem on the big board, leaving space below it for possible solutions. The effect was nothing short of magical. With the contents of the board always simmering in the back of my mind, intractable problems melted away and elegant solutions popped into my head at odd hours.

The other bit of white-board related advice I'll give is this: throw out your markers when they've run dry. Don't put dried-out markers back with the other ones, or a year from now you'll have to hunt through a dozen dry markers to find the only one that still works. I cannot comprehend why otherwise intelligent people do this. Sorry to be the hard-nosed realist here, but those spent markers are gone, they are not coming back, and keeping them around is just you being an asshole to your future self.

Don't let anyone dictate your voice and style.

This is not to say that you shouldn't listen to criticism, or that you should eschew all advice, but you should never take advice that pushes you out of your own style. This is especially true regarding advice which pushes you toward the advisor's style. I don't know why so many writers

want everyone else to write exactly like them. You'd think they'd value their own individual style enough to keep it unique. I can't imagine why they don't, but I have a working theory involving the Borg.

Don't write other writers' stories.

Similarly, watch for critique, criticism, and advice from people who had an inspiration for an entirely different story while reading yours, and now want you to reshape your story along the lines of their inspiration instead of damn well writing it themselves.

Always listen to criticism, and frankly consider it.

At first glance, this appears to be at odds with some of my previous admonitions, but notice how I didn't tell you to take the advice that's given. I've gotten a lot of terrible advice on my writing, and I've found that even terrible advice often conceals legitimate insight. The vapid critique partner who tells you not to use adverbs in your writing, but who is incapable of expressing that rule without using one himself, is someone whose advice ought to be taken with a big grain of salt. Then again, there might be something wrong with your prose if they were so bored that they stopped to count every instance of whatever the hell they imagine an adverb is, and it might be worth considering what that defect is.

None of this advice, I'm afraid, will make you a better writer. I know, I know, now she tells me. However, these tips may help you learn how to make yourself into a better writer, if you follow this one final piece of advice: write like it’s the only thing keeping you alive. If you have to, take an hour every day and make it your sacred writing time, during which you are not to be disturbed under pain of angry lecture. If writing is something you love—and it surely must be, if you've read so far into such a snotty article—you'll jealously guard the personal time it's going to take to improve your craft.

And if you should ever waver in your commitment, should you ever despair that your writing isn't yet good enough, should you look ahead to the long years of slow improvement and lose heart, just think of the snotty article that you're going to write once you're published, and take heart. "

You can learn more about Robyn Bennis at http://www.robynbennis.com or follow her @according2robyn and RobynBennisWriteringPun on Facebook.

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