I received a question from a reader today that sparked a pretty long reply that I'd like to share here. He mentioned that, while reading my silly little book, it occured to him that -- if I, a bumbling dork from Atlanta, could write a book and get it published, perhaps he could re-focus on his writing and go somewhere with it himself. He asked if I knew of any good books on becoming a better writer, and if I had any advice for him myself. Below is my reply:


The only things I've seen that really spark my wire in terms of advice on writing are Stephen King's "Everything you need to know about writing - in 10 minutes", George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction. All three were miles ahead of everything else I've ever read in terms of "how to be a better writer" or whatever for two reasons - they're short, and they advocate being short. Any advice which follows itself is always tops in my book. That's the problem with most, if not all, of the books on writing available on the market today -- they're books. On writing.

You shouldn't need to write a book to explain to someone how to write a book. Those books are full of crap.

My own advice:

1) Keep a journal. Write in it every single day, twice if you can, three times if you're serious about writing. This is INVALUABLE. Assume no one will ever read it or care to. This is important for #2:

2) Learn your voice. People can spot a phony, it's just what people do. When I read a book by an author and the voice (not the one from the actively speaking character, but the voice of the writing itself) sounds or feels manufactured, I can't enjoy the story. I don't know if anyone else has this issue, but I do know that your voice is the pace - the meter, the heartbeat, the essence - of whatever it is you're going to write.

3) Read. Read a lot. Read when you think you'd rather be playing video games, read when you're on the toilet, read on the bus... Read. Lots and lots. It doesn't honestly matter what you read, just injest the words and voice of other writers. You won't know it while you're doing it, even though I'm going to tell you you'll do it, but the more authors you expose yourself to and the more written words you digest, the sooner and better you'll detect the difference between a sentence and a GOOD sentence; between dialogue and GOOD dialogue.

4) Drafts... learn to love them. I personally hate them, and I am still learning how to love them. But they're a necessary evil. I'm one of those guys who can't stand to redo work - I want it perfect the first time it is done, whether it be writing a story or cleaning the gutters or building a plastic model of a Gundam suit. But it's necessary. Just learn to love them.

5) Find three people in your life who love you enough to be honest enough with you that they don't mind hurting your feelings, and find a way to convince them to read your stuff. I advise staying away from family members, as you can't (or shouldn't) expect honest advice or critique from anyone who's ever seen you in diapers.

6) Be honest with your writing, and it will be honest with you. You've heard "write what you know" about 2 bazillion times, I'm sure. That's fine advice, but I'm fairly certain Toliken didn't actually know a race of Elven warriors or any actual wizards clad in grey or white. I'd advise instead to write what you feel, when you feel it, and be honest about it. If you're pissed, be as pissed as you want to be right then and there - capture it. If you're happy, capture it. Sad, angry, melancholy, whatever - just get it when you feel it. That's where "write what you know" really matters... You can research botany if you're writing about flowers, but no amount of research will ever teach you what it's like to miss someone so badly it physically hurts.

Know those feelings left and right, up and down, how YOU feel them. Then, bring them into the situations you write, as you write them.

and lastly,

7) Seriously... Don't listen to anyone. "You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance." --Ray Bradbury.

Just do what you do. Your stories are your stories. Don't get caught up in "writing for an audience" or any such nonsense -- Write for yourself. Your audience will find you, provided you've been honest with yourself and them in your writing. Let go of that asshole English Lit master's student from your 2nd semester in college or that jerkoff who only taught English in High School so the school could justify his coaching the swim team.

Let them go. Write your stories. They're YOURS, dammit.

Take all of this with a grain of salt. After all, I am writing this on the internet, and we all know that you can't trust a damn thing you read on the internet. But I hope it helps some.