blog 43: In which I give my past self 10 pieces of writing advice.

When I started this blog I didn’t really know what it would be about (I still don’t) but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be about writing advice – at least not serious writing advice.

That’s because I’m not that certain about anything much when it comes to writing. I’d love to sit in on workshops like 10 Steps to Creating Effective Characters because I’d be really interested to know what those 10 steps are! Another reason I’m loathe to hand out advice is that everybody’s different, so what works for me might be  completely useless for someone else.

So really, the only person I’d feel totally comfortable about giving writing advice to, is me.

With that in mind, if I could travel back in time, Doctor Who like, to the year 2000 when I had resigned from my teaching job and was about to take the first hesitant step towards becoming a writer, these are the 10 pieces of writing advice I would give myself.

  1. Don’t even think about typing a single word of that story until you’ve got an ending in your head that you believe in and can’t wait to write. You’re an endings person. No matter how good a story’s beginning or middle is, for you, its success or failure will depend on how it ends.
  2. Hemingway famously said that ‘the first draft of anything is shit’. He’s wrong. Don’t believe him for a second. It won’t work like that for you. Edit and rewrite as you go so that your first draft is as close to the final draft as you can get it. It won’t be perfect by any means, and you will still need to do at least two more drafts, but it will be far from ‘shit’. If you ever do write a ‘shit’ first draft, I can pretty much guarantee that story will never see the light of day.papa
  3. Writing while you’re in a cafe or on the beach or in a park sounds wonderfully romantic to you. Forget it. Don’t even bother trying. A room (view optional), a desk, a computer and solitude are what you need.
  4. Ditto No 3 advice when it comes to writing with music. You love music so if you want to listen to music, then listen to music. It you want to write, then write. Don’t try to combine the two.DSC_0179a
  5. Try to write stories that require as little research as possible. You’re not good at research and you don’t like it. Play to your strengths.
  6. In most cases, writing techniques like plot graphs, character interviews and detailed written story plans or outlines are not for you. Do most of the plotting in your head. Write down whatever you can’t keep track of as you go along.SAM_0576a
  7. Writers groups are great. But they’re not for you. Don’t show anyone a manuscript you’re working on or discuss it in detail until you’ve finished writing it. If you do, it will just distract and confuse you and probably end up undermining your confidence and belief in your story.
  8. Don’t panic about finding story ideas, they will find you. Just make sure you’ve got your eyes, ears, mind and heart open when they show up because they are often fleeting and seemingly insignificant things and therefore easy to miss.Study in last house3a 
  9. In the process of writing a story you will have the strange feeling that the story itself already exists somewhere in its true and complete form and that you are discovering it more than creating it. Whether it’s actually true or not, you should believe it. You will find it a very helpful and reassuring thought.
  10. Finally, your target audience will always be you. Write the stories that you love. Hopefully when you’re finished they will be able to find their way to all the other ‘yous’ out there.My Scans1


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11 Responses to blog 43: In which I give my past self 10 pieces of writing advice.

  1. You have a useful mix of universally applicable things here (write the stories you love) as well as the ones that we,as writers, must think through for ourselves. Something for me to consider.


  2. Scott chambers says:

    Have to say they all rang fairly true for me, so happy to take your advice, if you’re not using it. Nice post.


  3. Chris te Lindert says:

    When I finally retire I so want to finish writing the stories I have in my head – and in some cases have even started. As a real fan of your writing I enjoyed reading how the process of writing works for you. For me – the keeping it all in my head – just wouldn’t work. Too addicted to multi-tasking.


    • mgbauer says:

      Hi Chris. Thanks for commenting. Yes I think you have to find what works for you and go with it. Best of luck with your stories. Cheers Michael.


  4. Dimity Powell says:

    8 of 10 for me Michael. I fall in love with my beginnings, enjoy the stumble through the middles, but often get lost at the end. Endings are not my strong point. Might be a Piscean thing…just like to float along to some plausible place, eventually…Otherwise LIKE LIKE – fantastic post. Happy Chrimbo to you and yours and all the very very best for 2013 – now that we’ve just about survived 2012!! Dim x


  5. cjm76 says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Super awesome advice, MGB. If only we all had this knowledge at the beginning. Then again, it’d be a pretty boring journey without these surprises/epiphanies/brain farts 🙂


    • mgbauer says:

      Hey Carly-Jay! Yes I agree. And you never stop finding out stuff about yourself as a writer. Who knows if I’ll even agree with this advice in the future. Merry Christmas!


  6. Alex Gutteridge, children's author says:

    Wow! Apart from point 7 this could be me talking to myself which is rather spooky but very reassuring that others work and think or think and work like I do. I’m also lucky to have a brilliant and supportive writer’s group whose advice I trust – when it taps into my own doubts about my work – otherwise of course I completely ignore them! Thanks for writing this Michael.


    • mgbauer says:

      Hi Alex. Wow indeed. 9 out of 10. Of course it could just be that we’ve both got it all wrong! Just kidding. And I agree with you about how useful and supportive writers groups can be for a lot of people. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. Much appreciated. Cheers Michael.


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