3 Pieces of Writing Advice that I Almost Missed

One of my favorite industry magazines, The Writer, never fails me, though I sometimes fall short of recognizing all that it has to offer. Sure, I dog-ear several articles in each issue, but, more often than not, I breeze through the last few pages, skipping over the Market listings and the Classifieds, barely glancing at the final column, “How I Write.” Sometimes I’m in a hurry to finish the magazine; sometimes I’m being aloof. If it’s at the end, I think, it can’t be that important. Either way, when I blow past that very last page, I risk the chance, as I realized with this month’s issue, of missing out on key advice.

In the March issue of The Writer, “How I Write” features an interview with Jacqueline Winspear, author of the successful series about Detective Maisie Dobbs. I don’t read mystery much, so I almost – almost – closed the cover of the magazine. But, something pulled at me to read her interview, and I’m glad I did. I grabbed on to three key pieces of advice that I desperately needed.

1. On Research

“If you let [research] dictate a story…you might as well be writing nonfiction. . . . If you are completely directed by research, you lost the story’s rhythm. If there’s no rhythm, there’s no dance.”

Every bit of writing, I’m learning, requires research. Even now, I’m working on a short story about a piano tuner. I’ve been bookmarking sites on the internet for the past several days on things like piano terms and anatomy, tidbits of information that are crucial in making the character believeable. But where Winspears words really hit home is in respect to a different project: I have an itch to write a historical fiction. I admit, I’m frightened, of the research involved, that I might not gather enough and get details wrong, that I won’t be able to make the story work. I could walk away from the project, easy (though the idea of it keeps resurfacing and refuses to be ignored). So, it helps to keep in mind that, while research is critical, it doesn’t necessarily drive the story.

2. On Fear

“Don’t make excuses. . . . Don’t be afraid . . . . After all, [what’s] the worst that could happen?”

For me, fear can be infectious and lethal if left unattended for too long (see new project angst above). I have a few mantras that I repeat, under my breath, in moments of heavy self-doubt. One hints at my secret affinity towards a certain four-letter word. The other runs cleaner and is parallel to what Winspear says: what have I got to lose?

3. On the Job that Pays the Bills

“…[D]on’t underestimate the power of your day job; that structure and finite time for writing could be the best motivation you have.”

Boy, isn’t that the truth? The more time I have to kill, the less writing I get accomplished. But give me a crunch time of two hours (or less), and I can whip a whole draft of a story up onto the screen.

How about you? Catch any pearls of wisdom lately?


About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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10 Responses to 3 Pieces of Writing Advice that I Almost Missed

  1. #1, the research – I don’t let it dictate a story, I add to it, imagine it. I recently wrote a short story about a little boy in the coal mines, and though I had done considerable research on the subject (and even been in a coal mine), I didn’t let all the facts get in my way! #2, fear – I think I’m pretty fearless – it helps that I don’t really care what people think about what I write. I write for the joy of it, for crafting a beautiful paragraph or sentence, a good story. #3, the J.O.B. – this is my job. Not having a go-to job, I do probably take more mental-health breaks, I get up and go take a walk sometimes, but I believe they are important.
    Karen S. Elliott recently posted..Under ConstructionMy Profile

    • Christi Christi says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Karen. Don’t let the facts get in the way. I like that. And, I love the reminder too, to write for the joy of it. Fear can’t possibly butt in when we’re having fun, right?

  2. Thanks for sharing that. No. 3 really hit home for me. As I work full-time, I find that I am more productive with my writing during my working days when I have a dedicated period of time to write. I can barely write a lick on the weekends, when there’s actually more time.

    As for fear, all I can really do now is pray that it won’t cripple me. If I don’t try, I’ll never know.

    • Christi Christi says:

      Mieke, I’m with you. My weekends result in very little writing. Mostly because I can’t zip off to a coffee shop and squeeze in a bit of writing like I can during the week, in the between time when I’m done working but my kids are still in school. Those coffee shop stints are my most productive times!

  3. Thanks for this post, Christi. I think my answer to the first: research, can be summed up in a question someone asked me. Why do you spend so much time researching? This is fiction, isn’t it? Yes, it foremost and finally a story I made up. I think the essence of doing too much research or allowing it to ruin the story is a valid issue. Use the research to “couch” the story, not drive it.

    About the full time job. I say it in my blog and on twitter. I am a full-time writer. Period. When or how much I earn is to be determined. In the mean time I show up every day, ready to work my a## off. If I could give my time and energy to someone else for salary, I can give myself the same time and energy for a vocation. And the toughest boss you will ever work for is, or should be, yourself.

    Fear is not what makes a person a coward. A coward is someone who does nothing because of fear. Do it even when you are afraid. Yes, what’s the worst thing that could happpen?
    Florence Fois recently posted..Writer’s Life … To buy a plum bunMy Profile

    • Christi Christi says:

      Florence, You’ve dropped in some great advice here, especially this: Use the research to “couch” the story, not drive it. That’s very helpful. Along with the reminder to write through the fear…. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Ron Thibodeaux says:

    I can vouch for #3! My book is being published in June, and most of it was written in one- to two-hour bites at the crack of dawn before I started my regular work day.

    • Christi Christi says:

      Ron, Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. And congrats on your upcoming publication! It’s always good to hear those success stories of authors who were able to get the book done (& to publication), even when time was limited.

  5. I like these a lot, especially #3! I’ve been working on a post about how daily distractions can actually aid writing. I do believe that, ironically, having LESS time to write can be strangely invigorating and productive. Thanks.

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