Two Pieces Of Writing Advice I Took

In hopes of seasoning their craft, most writers read books on technique. During my own odyssey toward self-improvement, two simple pieces of advice particularly resonated. The first came from the book On Writing by Stephen King, the second from author Wayson Choy.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

1. Pushing The Envelope

Writers often wonder how far to push boundaries.

–Will our words be offensive?

–Will Grandma cringe when she reads them?

–Will little Timmy hide in shame from his friends?

Questions of this nature plagued my first novel, and I omitted passages as a result. But a side effect of sanitization was deception. I wasn’t being true to my story. Though perhaps not critical in my first book, the issue weighed heavier in my current manuscript where the premise is controversial and divisive.

The following words from King’s book On Writing eased my boundary-crossing:

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” (Page 148, paperback)

And:

“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty.” (Page 185)

And:

“The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest, and believe me, writing fiction in America as we enter the twenty-first century is no job for intellectual cowards.” (Page 187)

Though King specifically refers to dialogue (profanity, portraying bigoted characters), the concept applies to all aspects of storytelling.

My take-home message? When we censor ourselves, we stop writing honestly.

Of course, as a writer there are places I’ll never go. I don’t like reading about those places (think torture porn or detailed sexual violence), and I certainly won’t create them. But my current manuscript involves a social theme of which there are strong opinions. As a result, I had to stop worrying about what others would think and just write the dang book.

That comfortable boundary will vary among writers, just as it does for readers. The trick is to decide how much stretching beyond our own confines we can stomach.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

2. Just Sit That Thing Down!

I put my other favorite piece of advice into action this past summer:

“The only secret to writing is AC: Ass on Chair.”Wayson Choy (and others)

An amazing thing happened when I backed away from social media, turned off my television shows, and worked Monday through Sunday, week after week. I finished my book.

Although some of those writing sessions were about as fun as acupuncture with steak knives, it really was as simple as “Ass on Chair.”*

Any favorite writing advice you’ve taken? Do you have boundaries as a writer or reader?

*Ass on Chair proves more difficult when one has a ‘real’ job. Such was the case with my first book. But even then, one to two hours a night after the kids went to bed paid off. It just took longer.

 

212 Responses to “Two Pieces Of Writing Advice I Took”

  1. Michael Lane

    Some good ones in there. Elmore Leonard has a great list which you an Google somewhere. Among them are “if it looks like writing, I rewrite it.” And “no adverbs.” I’m paraphrasing, but I thought he was helpful. I have to get that King book. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh yes, I agree, Elmore Leonard has great mottos. His ten rules of writing are some of the best and most basic around. Many writers try to incorporate his commonsense tips, myself included. Stephen King’s book is great–my favorite book on the craft of writing–and his humor makes it a very pleasurable read.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated!

      Like

  2. sherabzhangmo

    “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
    Hurray!
    Ass on Chair. AC.
    On it… 😉
    x

    Like

  3. deanjbaker

    haven’t met Stephen King yet, but did meet Wayson right after his first novel was done, he was my brother’s teacher at Humber College – good to see this, Carrie

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      How cool that Choy was your brother’s teacher and that you met him! I haven’t actually read any of his work, but I love his quote. I’ve certainly read plenty of King, though. Such a good storyteller.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!

      Like

  4. Lynn Schneider

    I am intrigued by your new book and the treadmill desk. I am very behind on reading blogs, but found this to be oh so helpful. Really, the new book sounds so interesting, can’t wait until it comes out. Or maybe I should keep reading (I’m going from earliest to most recent) so maybe there is more news ahead for me.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      No, there isn’t any new ‘news.’ I haven’t mentioned the premise yet. Still waiting to hear back from a few early readers. Want to make sure they don’t say, “What were you thinking?!” first. 😉

      Like

  5. Kev

    I struggled with this when writing Miedo. I had to be as honest as I could…I just had to, but I deleted sections, then later on I re-added, then deleted, then… Finally I thought, F*** it, it’s my book I’m keeping it in. After reading your article, I’m glad I did…I’ve stayed true to myself. I feel good about that now, because up until now, I still doubted if I did the right thing. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I hear you. As I’m in the final editing stages of my latest manuscript, my doubts are creeping in again, and I think, “Ooh, should I take that out? Is it too much?” But I’m trying to keep it to a minimum this time around. Unless my early readers say something is questionable, I’ll try to leave it in.

      Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I recently attended a lecture by bestselling author Michael Palmer. He said when he wrote his first book, he typed out one page every night. That’s all he had time for. But eventually, that pile went from a few pages to a large stack, and before he knew it, he had a book written. Slow and steady beats endless procrastination, I guess. 🙂

      Like

  6. writerwendyreid

    Hey Carebear….great to see you posting again! I missed you. 🙂
    I love the Stephen King quotes. As you know, in my stories I cross lines every chance I can get. I struggled with that at first but then realized that I needed to find my “niche” in the hopes of getting noticed in a sea of new authors with the very same goal. The last one I was working on was a tad cleaner, which is probably why I lost interest and stopped writing.
    I also think you need to be true to your characters. People swear. Crazy people swear a lot. Most stories should have a shady character. Just my opinion of course. 🙂 xo

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I can see where you crossed some boundaries in ‘A Mother’s Love,’ and I think that made it a better book as a result. I agree that if one is to compete in the publishing world, one must be willing to stick his/her neck out a bit. Comes across as more honest, so I get what King is saying. I just have to quit thinking about what my sons’ teachers are going to think… 😉

      Like

  7. Jill Pinnella Corso

    Great advice! I think of a couple things when I don’t feel like writing, but mainly…

    “Just try it.” – myself, or my parents when they were making me try weird food

    I know if I can just start, just get two minutes into it, it will start to feel easy soon enough.

    Like

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: