Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?

The best writing advice I ever received I read in an old book called The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker: “Clarity is the first aim; economy the second; grace the third; dignity the fourth. Our writing should be a little strange, a little out of the ordinary, a little beautiful with words and phrases not met everyday, but seeming as right and natural as grass.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I paid particular attention to that advice when writing Light Bringer. I wanted the style itself to show that the characters were a little strange, a little out of the ordinary, a little beautiful. For example, “And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers — chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia — all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.”

Here are some responses from other authors about how the best writing advice they ever received. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Sheila Deeth, Author of “Flower Child”

I met Jane Kirkpatrick shortly after we moved to Oregon. She told me to keep writing. In fact, she’s told me several times to keep writing. It’s probably the most valuable piece of advice I’ve had.

From an interview with Eric Wasserman, Author of Celluloid Strangers

Frederick Reiken’s literature course on the short story was my very first graduate school class. The very first thing he said to all of us was, “If you’re not willing to submerge yourself in the world of reading fiction, give up now on being a serious writer of fiction.” I wrote this down the moment he said it, went back to my dingy Boston studio apartment that evening, and taped it across the screen of my TV.

From an interview with Sandra Shwayder Sanchez, Author of “The Nun”

The best advice I ever received was from J.R. Salamanca (Lilith, A Sea Change, Embarkation, Southern Light and more) who said the permanence of the written word has more influence on readers than spoken words and to take that influence seriously and try to create a good influence and that is the advice I would give aspiring writers.

What about you? Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received, and what was it?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)

18 Responses to “Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?”

  1. shadowoperator Says:

    The best writing advice I ever received was not received from a creative writer teacher or a writer of fiction. It was from the supervisor of my thesis; even though that writing was academic and the corrections and suggestions he made were oriented toward making me a better academic writer, I found when I returned to fiction that they were eminently useful there too. He had located things in my writing, a lack of clarity in some spots, unnecessary duplication of information in another spot, or maybe extra length in places, and told me to do away with them. I’ve found the advice as valid for my creative writing as it is for my academic and article writing, and I can never express my gratitude as fully as I ought.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Those are both great pieces of advice. Duplication does not double the effect you are aiming for, it halves it. And what good are we as writers if people don’t understand what we are saying?

  2. Carrie Rubin Says:

    This wasn’t personal advice directed at me, but a passage I read in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ really stayed with me. Sometimes we might be hesitant to write something because we worry what others would think of it. He points out that the minute you start to censure yourself, you write less honestly. If your character is a jerk, you have to be willing to let him speak like a jerk, even if some might find that offensive. Obviously, I think this needs to be within reason, but it’s a good point nonetheless.

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Probably my father: he told me that I should try new things even if they scare me and try to gather as many experiences as possible. So far, that advice has been working out for me.

  4. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    ‘Show don’t tell’ – best writing advice ever received. It’s been said so many times since, I can’t remember the first person to inform me, but it’s imperative to becoming a great fiction writer.

    http://stephen-leslie-france.blogspot.com

  5. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    The best advice I got was something I put together myself from getting to know two lecturers in English at college. One lecturer was always experimenting with her own writing which made her views on famous authors fresh and original. She would show us early examples of a famous writer’s work as well as the work they were most famous for. We picked up the idea of progression. The other lecturer was so steeped in her authors that she treated them as demigods. They did no wrong and could do no wrong. She would write the occasional essay and have it published but that’s about it. I have always felt that she was hampered from writing her own creative fiction by the belief that she would never be as good as the authors she held up so high. I promised myself that I would never hold anyone who writes up so high that I would shrink from having a go at being creative. In my view the first lecturer I mentioned was right in coming to the conclusion that all great writers work their way toward being great by continually writing. They improved, they got better. People gave them that chance. They gave themselves that chance.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting juxtapositioning of stories. It’s one reason many authors never go back to read their earlier works — they don’t want to know how bad they once were. A great part of writing is continually improving the craft.

  6. jeffo Says:

    I don’t know where it came from, probably from dozens of people in dozens of places, but it’s the one piece of advice that I, in turn, most give: just sit down and write the damn story.

  7. Lynette Willows Says:

    I received two pieces of advice that had nothing to do with writing, but served me well in my writing career. I had a school counselor tell me to “forget the naysayers. If you believe you’re right, keep on doing it and do it right.” This helped me to overcome all the negative people around me, most family, who insisted I stop what I was doing because I’ll never succeed. The second came from my father, again when I was young. He told me everyone had to serve an apprenticeship, and nothing came easy. You have to know what you’re doing before you’re any good at it. So I learned and absorbed everything I could while I served as a freelance writer and journalist. I learned also what advice to take and what to leave because it simply wouldn’t work for me. After ten years, I wrote a book and got a publishing contract. I also know I still have tons to learn, but at least I know I’m on the right track. Besides, i’m starting to believe being stubborn is actually a good quality when applied correctly. LOL
    Good article, and I found a few gems I can use here. Thank you.


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