10 Lessons of Writing (that I took away from VP)

There’s a meme going around us Viable Paradise XV folk (started by thanate) on what would be your 10 lessons of writing. Since I’ve been meaning to do a list anyway of what I learned from VP, I decided to do that instead. So burn this into your brain.

1) I wrote it once, I wrote it again, by golly, let’s do it one more time: it doesn’t matter how smart you are–all that matters is to tell a good story.

2) And in that vein: in terms of the adage “Write What You Know” you know a lot more than you think. I came to Viable Paradise thinking, “Everyone is smarter, or been to more places, or done more things, than I have.” That’s not true. Every single one of us has a different set of know-how, memories, and skills to draw back on. And if you don’t…

3) The rest can be faked–with a little help from your friends. The internets is your friend. Libraries are your friend. Your friends are your friend. (Wait…your friends…uh, never mind.) You have a wealth of knowledge surrounding you. Don’t be afraid to use your status as a writer to get outside help on something you don’t know. People love it when you say, “Hey, I’m a writer and I can use your help.” Ply them with attention and maybe a croissant and they’ll help flesh out your world.

4) If you put in a lot of stuff in your story to flesh it out because you don’t think you know enough, stop it. There’s a difference between details and “a telling detail”. The latter gives you the necessary info a reader needs to know, the former is just filler. Which means:

5)Tighten, tighten, tighten your prose. Oh, my gosh. Stephen King was right. The hardest part of writing isn’t the first draft. It’s the second, when you got to figure out what stays in and what is dragging down the story. And then there’s the third draft: making sure your words work for you (killing -ly words, strengthening verbs, etc). I think this was probably the most important tip I learned at VP.

6) Even swear words have their own grammar.  Really. It’s true.

7) Become a slushreader. One of the advantages I had at VP was that I slush for Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed, so I already knew what made a good story. But going to VP also helped me become a better slushreader because I can see why most stories don’t work. I can also see what would make them become better stories. So keep an eye on the nets, and if you see a magazine calling for readers, take it.

8.) Get in a good writer’s group, or at least have beta readers. And don’t get readers who would just say “this is good” or “this is bad”. Find readers who will be brutal. You’ll need brutal. But also find readers who can dig the good parts too. Balance is always key. You don’t need to physically meet. Google Plus is awesome place to hook up with writers. Heck, doing the Hangouts alone is worth it.

9) Don’t just write. Also read. Read everything. And watch movies. And go out and hang with friends. And do things. And Live.

10) You can cook greens by simply drizzling them with olive oil and salt, covering them with tin foil, and letting them bake in a low oven for about an hour or so. So this isn’t exactly a writing tip. I don’t care. Those greens Mac made were AWESOME!

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3 Responses

  1. 🙂 Nice. And greens must indeed be included.

  2. Love #10!

    Re #2: My father tells a story about being in a graduate level class where he felt like everyone knew all about everything they were learning except for him. Only then one class they got to something that he knew a whole lot about, and he realized that it wasn’t that everyone else knew it all– it was that there was always one person in the class who had relevant experience with whatever it was they were studying that week. But the voice of expertise was always a different person.

  3. I’m right there with you on #1, I’ve learned to be brutal in my own editing. Of course, I have started saving some of those good passages that just had to go in a separate doc. Progress 🙂

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