The writing advice you need but don't want

A religious daily word-count does not make you a writer

1000 words a day may make you feel like a writer, but a 1000 words of crap just makes you a crap one. Writing isn't just about producing words – it's about creating stories, developing characters, imagining worlds. The words that reveal all that are just the icing on the cake. Prose, no matter how lovely, is just prose – without character and narrative to drive it, people will tire by paragraph 2.

Sometimes you need to do nothing

I'm the first one to tell you to maximise your writing time, but sometimes you need to just shut-down, wander around, and empty your mind. Clear the air, clear some space, give yourself a breather and day-dream; people watch, observe the world around you – with no more agenda than being at peace. Get in touch with yourself and yourself within the world. This will not only re-charge your imagination, but give you an opportunity to remember what it's like to just observe and feel.

Keep your head in the clouds while your feet are on the ground

Or vice-versa. Sometimes I get so tied up with the human-condition and how to write about it that I forget that some of the best stories are just totally out there – Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz for example. Don't cramp your imagination too much with reality, and likewise, if you're a dreamer, don't forget to keep it relevant.

A character driven piece is no excuse for a crap story

Disappointed Reader: What the hell is this? The character doesn't change, there's no story or narrative propulsion. Nothing happens. In fact, if I wasn't married to you, I wouldn't have got beyond page one.

Bone-headed Writer: Yeah, but that's because it's character driven.


A difficult subject matter is a difficult sell

No matter how scintillating your narrative is, certain subjects are going to turn readers off. No one is going to read your great story if they are going to put the book down as soon as they read the blurb.

Pants now, pay later

So, you need to develop character, construct a plot, define a setting, hone dialogue, then have a powerful voice and compelling narrative style to reveal it all? Scary. Far easier to just crack on with the manuscript and leave all that to your natural-born genius, luck, or later.

And you know which one it's going end up being.

Ernest H. said that the first draft of anything is shit, but you could always try and make it a little less shit with a little more forethought.


  1. Well said. Love the first point. I've learned from social media that uninteresting blather just fades into the white noise that is Twitter and Facebook. How does the old phrase go? "If you don't have anything relevant to say, don't say anything at all." Well, that's how it should go...

  2. Great points, James! Especially about the character driven story, and the importance of a plot to go along with it.

  3. @jennifer - thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog - glad my post resonated with you. Thought that first point was a bit controversial actually as a lot of writers swear by a daily word count - so nice to know I'm not alone. I try to capture ideas on a daily basis rather than churn out a load of words, then try and shape them into embryonic stories before writing. Loving your blog by the way.

    @paul - thanks for stopping by, Paul. Hope Alaska is treating you well. Yes, what we want is great character driven narratives with good plots - surely we can have both? I believe that story should be inseperable from fully realised characters as only they would react to events in their own way, thereby driving the story in unique directions.

  4. Yes I think we can have both. And I have to be really careful with the advice "It's okay to write crap." If you have to allow yourself that because of fear then fine. But why not slow down and write a little better. The better I do on my first draft the better off I am in the end. I think writing "crap" is a bad habit. Is it that hard to get in a habit of including sensory details and using strong verbs. Probaby not.

  5. Thank you! I get so tired of people blogging to "write every day" -- I don't want to/feel like writing every day. When I'm "there"...I can go for hours (which pass by like minutes). That line makes me nuts. Great points - great blog.

  6. Food for thought, James, and I wonder whether my novel's beginning is too gritty for taste? There is so much advice 'out there' that my head sometimes spins with overload.
    I find your blog, however, very grounding & also thought provoking.

  7. And I have an award for you on my blog today!

  8. @DiDi - hey DiDi, and welcome to the blog - thanks for your comment and support. I think a daily word count can work as part of the writers' toolkit, as long as it isn't the only one. I think once I've plotted out the current WIP I'll be subjecting myself to the rigours of a daily target - but at the moment I'm doing little in terms of a draft, just scribbling ideas down, putting scenes and turning points on index cards, filling notebooks etc - still spending a couple of hours a day on the project tho, just not bashing out pointless words.

    @Hemmie - hey Hem, nice to hear from you again. I don't think your beginning will be too gritty, and if this advice makes your head spin, then the best thing you can do is ignore it. Having read some of your work you clearly have the talent - that combined with how prolific you are and your commitment to the craft, 'tis only a matter of time before you can invite me to the book launch.

    @Laura - Laura, Laura, Laura - you have made my day - Wise Writer Award, huh? Thank you so much!

  9. I like the less sh** method. I plot loosely and do lots of pre-work before the actual writing.

  10. @Julie - I'm write with you - less shit is the way to go!

  11. This should be required reading for all NaNoWriMo participants and pushers.

  12. Thanks, J. - and welcome to the blog


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