Expert Writing Advice

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

“An expert is someone who tells you why you can’t do something.” Alec Issigonis

One afternoon last week I was working away in my office with everything humming along. Then I went for a walk and when I got back the electricity to my office and all that part of the house was off. We tripped all the breakers in the box on and off. Nothing happened. Except I had to reset every clock in the house. But still no juice getting to my computer and lights in my office. It seemed a sign. A higher power in control of the power had turned me off. No ice had downed any lines. The front part of the house still glowed with light. The t.v. was playing. But my office was dead. I couldn’t write.

Of course I think it’s a little sad that the loss of electricity so disturbs my writing world. Whatever happened to the inkpen and wirebound notebooks where I scribbled my first stories? Well, I don’t know about the ink pen, but I have to admit I know exactly where those notebooks are. I would probably cringe to read them now, but I kept them. Will keep them forever. My children can cringe if they read them right before they pitch them in the garbage after I pass on. There are some things a writer can’t throw away even when she should.

Words. That’s the hardest thing for us to throw away. Our words. It’s hard to slice and dice our beautiful words. I find it even harder to slice and dice other people’s words. Aspiring writers come to me wanting encouragement. I want to give encouragement, but I’m far from an expert editor on anybody else’s work. My own words – those I can edit. Ruthlessly.

But I have to be in the story to do editing and to immerse myself into other people’s stories requires far too much creative energy. I need whatever creative energy I can catch hold of to make my own story hunt. And I don’t want to be the kind of expert who just tells somebody they can’t do what they want to do. Because I don’t know how good they can be.

I learned this lesson years ago when I was asked to teach a class on fiction writing and prior to the class, I critiqued the first chapters of the participants’ novels. One of the writers seemed to be completely off base and to have no handle on how to put together a story. But then we had a read aloud session. She brought something else to read and what she read that day was the best in the class. I still worry that my comments on her writing weren’t as encouraging as she needed them to be. But she was a writer something like me. I sensed it in the way she rejected my what I hoped was positive criticisms. She knew she could write and she wasn’t about to let a little upstart of a writer who had lucked into publishing a novel tell her any different. I’m glad. Because I’m not an expert just because I’ve managed to publish a few books. That makes me blessed and perhaps a stubborn hard-working writer, but not an expert about anybody else’s writing.

The best advice I could have gotten early in my quest for publication was “Write.” That’s still the best advice for up and coming writers. You know that might still be the best advice for me. “Write.” Then again that might be the second best advice for wanna be writers. The best will always be to read. Or maybe you have a different idea? What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten or read or maybe given someone?