For Lack of a Time Machine (TCWT)

The Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain asks a lot of hard-hitting questions, and this month’s is no different.  The question is “What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?”  Of course, this will be different for everyone, but one thing remains true: you can’t answer this with a very specific answer.  “Don’t use passive voice” is no help to a writer who can’t master compelling characters.  “Remember to use similes” doesn’t help someone struggling with plot.  And my current favorite advice (just because it’s so unknown yet useful) about transitions would be useless for someone with no grasp of setting.  Furthermore, advice about plot, character, or setting will be no use to someone who hasn’t yet begun to write.  So when I first began writing, I think the best advice anyone could have given me was the advice I ignored over and over and over, from all my favorite authors: just write.

I first started writing in first or second grade, when I wrote a 500-word short story over the course of a couple weeks.  I wrote another story of similar length in third grade.  I continued to write in tiny bursts of inspiration and notebook availability over the next four years, until I started a family newsletter and came into the blogosphere.  There I learned about NaNoWriMo, which I attempted for the first time three years ago.  I wrote 50,000 words easily, almost casually, then left my novel alone.  At that point, I would have long breaks where I wasn’t writing anything, then pound out a novel for a NaNoWriMo challenge or a novella for the blog, along with intermittent blog posts.  Were they all good?  No.  But they got better over time.

The learning curve shot near vertical, however, about eight months ago.  I finally realized I had to write all the time if I wanted to get consistently better.  I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo, wrote a novella I had outlined in the past, partially rewrote my second novel, wrote a novella for the blog, wrote another novel, edited the NaNoNovel and queried with it, brainstormed and wrote another novel, then wrote another novella.  I’m currently editing the last novel.  I’m guessing I wrote 350k words in the last eight months.  Let me tell you, my novels have never been better.

Sure, I still make mistakes.  A lot of them.  But after each mistake, I get back up and write something new, something more fun than the last one.  I write something better, and better, and better.  I’ve learned so much: how to work with an outline, how to fulfill promises correctly, how to mess with poetry in description to create an emotional effect.  I’m loving writing more than ever, because I know I’m getting better.

And to think, I had that ability at my fingertips all this time, and shooed it away like a flea.

Rick Riordan’s writing advice: write every day.  Dan Wells’ writing advice: write a lot until you’re good at it.  Brandon Sanderson’s writing advice: always have a project and always be writing.  It’s not new stuff.  I’ve seen it in every corner of the writing world, and yet I’ve ignored it, thinking that writing a novel once a year was fine.  (I mean, for Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin, stuff like that works.)  But no, it doesn’t work like that.  Write all the time.  It doesn’t have to be a thousand words per day, or five hundred, or even two.  One word is fine, as long as it’s the right one.  But if you want to get better, you have to practice.

Can you get better without all that practice?  Sure.  I somehow grew between three years ago and eight months ago, but only half as much as I’ve grown in the past eight months.  It isn’t a joke that everyone harps on this, young Liam.  Practice works a lot better than reading books about writing.

Nevertheless, I’m happy with the way things have turned out.  I don’t regret my past mistakes and silly first novels— although I’d like to recall that first short story.  I don’t really care about the past.  But right now, practice is going to help me in the future, and that’s what I want.

Read all the other advice people are giving their past selves:

5th –
6th –
7th –
8th –
9th –
10th –
11th –
12th –
13th –
14th –
15th –
16th –
17th –
18th –
19th –
20th –
21st –
22nd –
23rd –
24th – – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.


21 thoughts on “For Lack of a Time Machine (TCWT)

  1. Funny. My last eight months have taught me a lot, too. And in a rather steep-ish learning curve, at that.
    Something I wish I had known at the beginning was that my writing was no where as near as good as I thought it was. Nearly a decade of writing and most of it is unpublishable. I mean, I don’t mind that so much and I still managed to learn in spite of my arrogance but still. I also sort of wish I had known to investigate why something wasn’t working. Of course, I never wrote anything that didn’t work and that I didn’t like at the time, so that would’ve been pointless by itself.
    Is that first short story the one in the anthology?

  2. Great post. I think a good illustration of its truth could be seen in the difference between you and me. Surprisingly, I think I may have been been writing longer than you have. Well, I too wrote my first short story (also probably about 500 words) in first or second grade, but I wrote my first “novel” (a six thousand word affair) when I was nine and did my first NaNo WriMo in 2009. But because you’ve written so much more consistently, you’re a much better, more accomplished writer. You’ve written 350 K in the last eight months; I (to my shame), have written little more than 100 K words of fiction in my life.

    Nevertheless, I, too have improved much more quickly in the last year or so. I haven’t written a tremendous volume in that time, but I’ve been a lot more consistent. Also, I’ve paid much more attention to quality, doing a lot of re-writing (which I hardly did at all before).

    With regard to reading advice on writing — I think writing and reading writing advice complement each other really well. You don’t learn anything of value by reading writing-advice books without writing, but if you write AND read writing-advice books you can learn a lot more quickly than if you just write. (just to state the bleeding obvious. Since Legolas didn’t turn up, I thought I’d fill in for him.)

    1. Oh, come. You’re a fine writer. Perhaps you need a little more practice, but slowing down and paying attention to quality is a lot better than barreling through 350k in a mad rush to nowhere.

      Indeed. Thank you, Legolas.

      1. Liam … Wood? Where is the Head Phil? What have you done with the Head Phil?! Phils, unite! We must vanquish this intruder from the Blank Page!

      2. Cast your eyes to the URL, my friend. It’s time for me to gain a little more professionalism, which means letting the world know my surname.

      3. Hang on, Phils, easy with the feather pillows there. It looks like this could be the real Liam after all. You don’t want to smother him.

        Professionalism, eh? Well, that is a brave new world. However, I have no doubt you are ready for it. When the time is right, I might follow suit.

        (And very nice URL)

      4. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear it. I was worried that if you outgrew the need for a blog like this, it would be the end of this place — and that would be tragic.

  3. Yup. I didn’t start writing everyday until just after I turned twelve, but I got a whole lot better a whole lot faster than I did before that… Mmm, now if only I could get better now.

    Now if I had to give myself advice, it’d probably be to actually learn from my mistakes, instead of just acknowledging them and moving on. Mmm, maybe I should give that advice to myself right now, not just when I was twelve.

  4. Like with all of your posts, I love this. This quote especially is worth framing: “I think the best advice anyone could have given me was the advice I ignored over and over and over, from all my favorite authors: just write.” Honestly, I’ve stopped listening to any umbrella writing advice for the reasons you mentioned. There are so many different factors that go into each facet of writing that giving one blanket statement of advice–aside from “just write”–will automatically be misleading to a large minority of people. What works for one person doesn’t work for the other. All it takes is practice, and possibly some more specifically geared writing advice (like critiques after a person reads your manuscript), and anyone can find their way to writing an awesome book.

  5. Confession: I’m a binge writer. I write furiously for a couple weeks, then don’t touch my word docs for a couple months. I also read way too much writing advice. But I agree. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to … write.

    1. Indeed. I used to be a huge binge writer, but these days I’ve forced myself to settle down and always have a project. It’s going pretty well, although I miss the days of sitting down spontaneously and ripping off a novella. (I still can, but I have to schedule it with all my other work.)

Comment! I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s