avryluy's picture
avryluy from Milwaukee, WI is reading Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin January 18, 2014 - 12:31pm

I've recently decided that I want to make writing a serious hobby of mine (writing short stories, novels, and maybe one day publishing). This may be a daunting task for a college student not studying writing in the middle of his college career, but this is something I really want to do. I have a blog dedicated to putting my work out there in hopes of getting advice but alas, nothing has happened as of yet. Patience, I'm realizing, will become my best friend and worst enemy.

 

That being said, do you guys have any advice for someone like me who is just starting out? Places to go for critiques and advice (other than here of course), websites to hone in my writing skill/style, and anything else that might be of use? 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On January 18, 2014 - 12:50pm

Well, you've come to the right place. First off I'd highly suggest becoming a member. It's not that expensive (I still think it's around $9 per month), and it'll allow you access to a couple of things sure to improve your writing: 1) The craft essays, specifically the Chuck Palahniuk ones. They're like an MFA in a box. All the dos and donts and advice you'll need to get started. And 2) being a member allows you to have your stories workshopped and critiqued by other members. These proved invaluable to me when I started out here over a year ago. It works on a point system, so for every five you critique and post, you get a chance to post your own story for workshopping. AND, your first workshop story is a freebie, so there's no excuses. Anyway, good luck, and welcome.

avryluy's picture
avryluy from Milwaukee, WI is reading Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin January 18, 2014 - 4:57pm

Thanks for the advice. I was actually thinking about signing up, but I wanted to check out the site first with a free account. I've heard nothing but great things about this place. Can't wait to fully utilize it. 

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 18, 2014 - 5:18pm

This may be a daunting task for a college student not studying writing in the middle of his college career, a person with kids to feed, a mortgage, two car payments and a 60 hour work week, but this is something I really want to do

FTFY

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 18, 2014 - 7:40pm

Just write, and keep writing. Critiques for a beginning writer are overrated. Your writing sucks and will continute to suck for some years. It might suck forever. Right now it doesn't matter. Just start and finish stories on your own, read a few books about writing, some essays, and understand that when you read your own story and think it's great, it's not. That's your ego fucking with you. It sucks. But be proud that you finished it and write something else. Put in your 10,000 hours. When you can read your own stories and realize they suck, you're in a good starting place. When you can write another story that seems to suck less, that feels like you've just about accomplished what you'd set out to accomplish, you're ready for critique. Play that game for a while: write, share, commune, and try to be better than everyone around you. Then when you finally write a story that's smarter than you are, get it published and out in the world. But for now, just write.

That's my advice for a writer just starting out.

Strange Photon's picture
Strange Photon from Fort Wayne, IN is reading Laurie Anderson lyrics January 19, 2014 - 6:07am

LOVE Matt's comment... It should be on a plaque at the entrance to the site.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer January 19, 2014 - 5:00pm

Write a lot, but also read a lot. When you read, try to cread critically. What is the author doing that works for you, what doesn't work for you? Just read, even if it is only for fun. Read inside your genre, and outside of it. Fiction and non-fiction. Over time, you will absorb it all and utilize it consciously and subconsciously in your writing. Everyone always says to write a lot, which is perhaps the most important thing, but try not to sacrifice reading in the process. Most good writers are constant readers.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 19, 2014 - 8:52pm

Read all of my Storyville colums, from the beginning forward. FREE, and they cover a wide range of topics, starting with finding your voice.

Good luck!

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On January 19, 2014 - 8:54pm

I second reading Richard's stuff. Lots of great advice from a seasoned, many-times published writer.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break January 19, 2014 - 9:31pm

Yeah, Richard's columns are legit.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong January 20, 2014 - 12:04pm

When you get workshopping, try to remember people are giving you feedback on your work, not you as a person. I think many people have trouble separating the two, and when you can do that, when you can see and admit the flaws in your own work, that's a huge step forward.

I think workshopping is integral to developing as a writer. I think having your stories workshopped is important, sure, but I also think the act of workshopping others' work is really helpful. It gets you thinking critically and analytically about work that isn't your own. So you have that objective starting point and can look at a piece, ask what you like and don't like, and express that and learn how to develop creative solutions for those shortcomings. This is a vital part of the creative process in writing, and you're practicing on other people.

I disagree, though, about waiting to workshop. I think it's never too early. I think you probably want to be in an appropriate environment, though. If there's an Intro to Creative Writing class at your school, take it.

And yeah, stalk ... I mean, follow Richard. On the Internet, of course. Just on the Internet. Maintaining respect of his personal space.

Strange Photon's picture
Strange Photon from Fort Wayne, IN is reading Laurie Anderson lyrics January 20, 2014 - 1:19pm

I have a substantial yet far less than comprehensive collection of the craft essays that have graced the screen of my comp over my time here, so if you ever want a treasure trove, let me know and I can send you a zip file.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami January 21, 2014 - 1:27pm

I will also add, don't neglect reading the autobiographies of your favorite authors. Not to judge them as good or bad people, but more to put yourself in the position of the author, understand the why for the choices they made for that work. Like, why did Travers decide to make Poppins how she is. And other circustancial context.

Then understand your own needs as a writer, and think about the choices you make to determine how your characters are.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 21, 2014 - 3:08pm

Find someone who tells you to give up and never write again.  If you can't keep going through that you aren't cut out for the huge amounts of disappointment. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami January 21, 2014 - 4:25pm

That would be a prick, not an editor worth fifty bucks. I can find things like contemporary language, dated language, redundancies, mispelling, not consequential scenes, and other stuff absolutely for free that makes such unspecificity not worth the money.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 21, 2014 - 4:28pm

Thanks for the kind words guys.

I'm going to do a column soon about books that cover craft, and I'll be focusing on On Writing by Stephen King, Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, and mega-agent Donald Maas's latest, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling. Three great books.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer January 21, 2014 - 8:42pm

Wonderbook is so amazing looking. I must have it.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 22, 2014 - 6:11am

Who said anything about editors?

David Ireland's picture
David Ireland from London is reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater January 22, 2014 - 3:48pm

Wonderbook really is great. It's craft advice on acid with lashings of inspiration. I read it cover to cover, but I can just open it anywhere and it'll get my juices flowing. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 22, 2014 - 7:04pm

No matter how good you are, someone won't like it and will disagree with those who do.

No matter what heights you attain, someone will think you are overrated.

No matter how much money you make, someone will think you don't deserve it.

No matter how many awards and honors your book receives, someone won't purchase it.

No matter how many times you have followed the advice of others, someone will offer you more.

---------------------------------

My advice is to develop the habit of asking more specific questions. Knowledge is special, understanding is general. [Or is it the other way around? Eh, whatever. I believe it is possible to comprehend my statement without the interference of internet dictionaries.]

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 23, 2014 - 12:32am

"...craft advice on acid with lashings of inspiration."--pretty good descripiton of Wonderbook, David.

I do enjoy owning it (reminds me of some of the cooler picture books of childhood) and I like Vandermeer's voice a lot, but I thought the content was kind of uneven, particularly the guest essays. Some were excellent, but a couple were infuriating--the writers trying much harder to be clever than actually provide anything useful for the student writer. Of course there was far more good than bad, somehow the bad bits just irritated the hell out of me.

And thanks Photon. I'm learning to channel my inner curmudgeon.

Welcome to the site avryluy.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 23, 2014 - 6:02pm

No matter how much money you make, someone will think you don't deserve it.

Also, no matter how little money you make, someone will think you don't deserve it.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 23, 2014 - 8:26am

Er, "how much" doesn't necessarily mean it's a lot.

No matter how much cash you make, someone will think you don't deserve it.

Also, no matter how much you get paid, someone will think you don't deserve it.

avryluy's picture
avryluy from Milwaukee, WI is reading Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin January 23, 2014 - 8:30am

Thanks for all of the input folks. I'm very excited to push myself and see how far I can go with my writing. 

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 6, 2014 - 4:05am

Remember that any advice you read/hear is only as good as what it does for your story. I've read loads of writing advice from authors, and I've seen those same authors pervasively break their own "rules". Because there isn't really any universal set of do's and don'ts. For a beginner, I'd recommend taking everything with a grain of salt or even outright ignoring it. With two exceptions: one, as said above, read a lot, critically, and write how you like to read, and the other comes from Hemingway, as overly sentimental as it is: go to the typewriter and bleed (or computer or whatever; Hemingway used a typewriter). Don't let the idea of "good writing" stifle your creativity.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 6, 2014 - 1:12pm

@Josh - Yeah, I think that almost all writing advice from someone who knows what they are talking about is "Avoid this most of the time," not "Never ever ever/always do this!" 

smortz's picture
smortz from NY now live in SF is reading Choke, Joyce Carol Oats July 12, 2014 - 1:56pm

How can I tell if a story needs a review.  I've been reading several stories but they need "comments" not reviews.  Thanks all.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami July 12, 2014 - 2:22pm

A lot of trouble is finding ideas, in the beginning I always researched in the direction of my interest. For example, researching Viking Longhouses and Longships.

Just make sure you research enough, or you'll end up with a 1/3rd of a short story like I did.

If you must move straight to novelettes, stick to something short like a three act (in my case, that would be around 12,000 words.)

I would also agree with what Josh said.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers July 12, 2014 - 7:53pm

Write what you want to write.

Read what you want to read.

Read what you probably don't want to read, you might be surprised.

Read as many "How To Write..." books as you can get your hands on. Especially this book, it changed my life. 

Wonderbook is excellent as well.

Write somemore. 

Write short stories, novels, novelettes, novellas, knock yourself out. 

Listen to people have conversations. Notice how they say things. Notice what they don't say. Notice what they say by implication. Notice that people don't use the name of the person they are talking to in coversation as much as you think they do. When you read, notice the tags they use for conversation. Use 'said'. Don't use muttered, or inferred, or gasped, or wheezed, or screamed. Said works because it's invisible and lets the reader know who is speaking.

If you must use any word other than 'said' to jazz up your dialogue, write better dialogue. 

Know your characters. Don't focus on appearances. KNOW them. Know that if they have to pull a gun on someone, will they pull the trigger, or are they bluffing? Are their hands shaking when they pull the gun? When they pull the trigger, does it make the nightmares stop? Know that if they pull the trigger, their lives are forever changed, good or bad. 

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 12, 2014 - 8:05pm

It might be okay to use something besides said if there is no way convey the information (better) in the dialogue.

He said, "Is he my son?"

She said, "No."

VS.

He said, "Is he my son?"

She whispered, "No."

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers July 12, 2014 - 9:13pm

That works. But I've got 'said' so ingrained in my writing style, I would have used a physical tag there instead of whispered. It is okay to use 'asked', but with the '?' already there, it's overkill. 

He chewed on a nail. "Is he my son?" 

She grabbed his hand, made him touch her face. "No."

 

That could have gone a million different ways, but that's not important. More words, but it gets the job done. 

justwords's picture
justwords from suburb of Birmingham, AL is reading The Tomb, F. Paul Wilson; A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby July 13, 2014 - 1:56am

Well, sh*t, Bob, what's wrong with: 

She gave him a look. And he knew.

(Sometimes, saying nothing is everything,)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 13, 2014 - 8:45am

But that is all making the assumption that she did stuff.  Sometimes people just lower their voice.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami July 13, 2014 - 1:17pm

Oh I don't even bother with dialogue tags sometimes. I switch completely to narrative. I don't really understand the advice why people say to not use narration in between long pauses of dialogue.

Just make sure they are scenes you think you need (assuming you have a plot in mind). The key point is whether it furthers your plot. Not a story someone else wants to tell.

It drives me nuts, when someone else wants to take the story in a new direction. Hopefully you won't encounter that sort of thing though.

Edit: To clarify, thats more of a novelists issue and less short fiction. Unless your a weird person like me, presumably each story is self-contained.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers July 13, 2014 - 6:44pm

Well, sh*t, Bob, what's wrong with:

She gave him a look. And he knew.

(Sometimes, saying nothing is everything,)

That works as well. The passage could have went a million different directions. That's the cool thing with writing, the choices are limitless. 

justwords's picture
justwords from suburb of Birmingham, AL is reading The Tomb, F. Paul Wilson; A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby July 13, 2014 - 7:07pm

@BP: Agreed! 

Cheers!

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 31, 2014 - 4:13am

From a fellow college student: The biggest progression I had with writing was when I gave up on novels and started writing short stories. Its like walking before you can crawl.If you write a piece of work you can finish then it gives you more confidence, and letsyou seehow your work pulls together into a cohesive whole, you can examine how it works as a story rather than a fragment. It also means you have less investment if it all goes wrong,which it always will at first. Also dont get too bogged down in writing something important, or over planning your plots. A good story is good and has something to say because it works as a fiction, not because its trying to push an overt message.  Re overplanning what reallyaffected me is this Eagleton quote: "Anyone... can sketch endless plans for a magnificent novel they never get around to writing because they are endlessly sketching plans for it." Just write, just do it, have an idea of where a story wants to go ofc but what matters is producing things you can improve upon.Thats whats helped me improve, a long way off from where I wanna be but I found those things as turning points for me. Hope that helps! 

Frank Menser's picture
Frank Menser from North Carolina August 11, 2014 - 5:36am

The most powerful tool you can have is IMAGINATION. All other skills can be learned and applied later. But without imagination you cannot dream up your story. So concentrate on that. Get the idea written, then apply the other tools to refine it.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 11, 2014 - 1:45pm

I'm not sure I agree about "over-planning". I usually hear from that those that write pretty much write off the cuff. Over-planning can mean different things, outlines aren't actually that bullet point structure your English teacher showed you in school. Nothing wrong with pantsing, but it's not for everybody.

Outlines could be as simple as, "Know what your going to say, before you say it." For years, I merely went with a premise sentence. It wasn't until my first novel seven years later, that I went with a more sixteen interconnected outlines. But a premise sentence can work for short fiction.

Main Thing: I consider writing to be like meditation. You don't want others thoughts about your project interferring while working on draft one. Do whatever that creates inspiration, even if that means writing fanfiction. (Just don't publish it.) This is why group brainstorming is not productive in my opinion. Unless your doing a collab.

Also, use an internet timer. I set the internet on for only two hours, while I was punning my middle grade. I woke up at nine, then didn't stop except for lunch, and bed at 4:00 in the morning.

I also would suggest a lower word count goal, as I wore myself out at 1,000 words a day.

Andrewbee's picture
Andrewbee from Chicago is reading some YA book, most likely August 11, 2014 - 2:38pm

I just joined this thread. If the OP is still looking for beginning advice, I'd say:

1) Write the things you really want to write, not what you think others want to read. You'll have a blast, and be hooked. Don't worry about whether you're any good, just do it. Then you'll want to...

2) Dedicate yourself to the craft of storytelling. There is much to learn but it, too, is a blast. This community is an awesome place to start. Do the classes - trust me, they're worth the money. Then, you'll want to...

3) Show off your work. Get people to beta read, in the workshops here or elsewhere. Hone your skills. Then...

4) The world's your oyster! Write sci-fi, romance, comedy, screenplays, historical, whatever takes your fancy. Unholy blends of all the above, if you want! Most of all, have fun.

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. August 11, 2014 - 3:54pm

I've only been at this a few months but I think the best thing I've learned so far is to not stress too much and just accept that you're going to get frustrated. You're going to want to give up and at some point you're going to hate yourself and every lousy thought in your head. It's going to suck but you're just gonna have to remember that you'll get through it, like anything else in life. I just recently went through a period like that for about two weeks where I basically quit. I hated everything I wrote and deleted anything new I so much as attempted. In total, I probably wrote about 500 words in the whole two weeks. But then, I just kinda got over it. In the last two days alone, I've writen somewhere around 15,000 words. Not particularly good words, mind you, but cohesive ones nonetheless. Just tough it out, man and eventually it'll be worth it. Probably.