Why That Writing Advice is Both Right… and WRONG: Part One

Since I love talking about writing advice, and I love pointing out that all writing advice should be taken — but only if it works for you, welcome to my new, irregularly scheduled feature, where I’m going to be talking about my favorite snippets of writing advice — and why they’re both right… and wrong. Or, you know, basically what the title says. I’m gonna talk about how they work for me personally, plus, exactly where they break down (for me).

1. Write What You Know

Authenticity sells. If you know how something works, or what this character would sound like, what that character would eat, and all the little things in between, then your story is going to flow more easily. You don’t have to do research for things you already know. You’re already immersed in this aspect of your story.

But.

I write fantasy. I’m nudging my way into science-fiction. Some of you write thrillers and crime novels — and not all of you who do are killers and criminals! I’m pretty sure.

Where this piece of advice shines best is when you take aspects of things you know fully and integrate it into your story. Maybe it’s giving a character your own day-job, or a character with your sister’s personality. Perhaps it’s adding your own dislike of baths for a character, or that thrill of a beautiful sunset while taking your dogs for a walk. Something that lets your reality into your story world, so it will ring all the truer for it.

But, what if your world is vastly different than the one in which you live? You might be writing in some caveman level fantasy world, or the future where the last of humanity leans on powerful machines for survival when our sun burns out, but there’s some things that will still hold true. Humanity. You know people who are kind, or mean, are clever, or just go with the flow. And by incorporating that level of humanity into your characters, making people in wildly difference scenarios react like people your readers know and love (or hate), you’ll be writing what you know, and making the story that much more accessible for your readers.

2. Write Every Day

While some writers can get away with only writing when inspired, for most of us, finishing a rough draft — not to mention the revisions and edits and polishes that take it from a concept in your head to a polished novel — takes a lot of application of butt-in-chair.

One of the best ways to get in the habit of writing is, surprisingly enough, to write. This is the theory behind NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. You’ve got a daily and monthly wordcount target to meet, and that encourages you to prioritize your writing. The best way to create a writing habit is to write every day.

And for some of us, it works. They writing like breathing.

But.

The rest of us are not automatons. Life happens. Family happens. If we prioritize our writing over our day jobs, our families, and our health? We’ll end up burnt out and living alone on ramen.

For me? I’ve learned how to get 50,000 words written in November and it involves letting a lot of things in my offline life slide — like laundry, dishes, and socialization. Especially since I still have a day job. For me? It’s doable for a month, but then I’m typically burnt out and catching up on what I let slide until at least January.

So, in the off-season, you’ll find me working on my writing 2-5 times a week, not every day. Letting the habit slide can make my writing struggle, but when I get back on track, a slower pace is healthier for me. It’s up to you to know what works for you — and recognize your circumstances can change. What worked for one story, one time in your life, might not work today.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

You might be telling a story, but you want to show the readers what’s happening, not tell the readers about what’s happening.

You want sentences like:

“Jaime,” she said, shaking her head, “why can’t you ever be on time?”

Not:

Jaime’s teacher was fussing that he came in late.

But.

Not everything has to be on the page. The reader needs to see when things change, when decisions are made, when characters are pushed toward the tipping point. They don’t need to see every last meal and potty break. Sometimes, it’s okay to tell a little. In brief sections.

Here’s an example from one of my works in progress. I used to show a lot more, but in this example, I’m telling:

The air smelled crisp and right when I woke, with the muffled sound of a heavy rain pattering into the ground above. Pilgrims were expected to work for their bed and board on late harvest days like this, so we spent the day cleaning, canning, and helping the Lunadats lay in stores for winter.

Sure, I read up on how to can fruits and vegetables, but the scene showing it happening only showed off my research, it did nothing to advance the story.


Those are the top three snippets of writing advice I keep hearing, plus how I’ve made them work for me. I infuse my writing with aspects of reality to ground it, I write when I can and try to make it a priority — in ways that don’t leave me burnt out, and I’ll tell instead of show when the scene won’t advance the plot.

Are there any bits of advice that you swear by? Any that are never right for you?
Let me know in the comments below!

Picking the Right Point Of View

Every writer is different. Some writers are planners and come into the story knowing exactly what the plot is, who the main character is, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going. Others plan a little lighter, knowing a basic plot outline and the general characters. And some? Just make the whole thing up as they go along.

One thing, though, is generally true, no matter how the writer approaches the story, there is a point of view character, or characters.

Points Of View

Most stories are told in first or third person. In first person, you have the character talking about:

“I went to the store.”

In third person, the story is more:

She went to the store.

For stylized, artsy, or choose-your-own-adventure books, you occasionally get second-person point of view. Or:

You went to the store.

Some stories are ‘closer’ than others. What do I mean by closer? Well, if the story isn’t ‘close’, you can’t know what the characters are thinking. When you are in third-person close, you can have things like,

MAIN CHARACTER thought that so-and-so was a jerk because

Where in first-person close, it would simply be:

So-and-so was a jerk! Why did they always…

But point of view is more than just which pronoun to use for the character (I, she, you) or how close you are. Some stories are told from one point of view, others have up to a multitude of point-of-view characters.

Picking a Point of View

When writing a story, there are many factors that go into picking the right point-of-view — and point of view character(s).

  1. What genre are you writing? Different genres tend toward different expectations for point of view characters. YA tends to be first person, adult science fiction and fantasy is often third person omniscient – like a narrator who can fill in world building gaps. Read in your genre to know what the expectations are.
  2. How intimate is your story? First person is a lot more intimate than third, but easier to throw the reader out of the story if you get a detail wrong. Lots of action and dialogue is great for third person. Mental turmoil often works better in first-person. If your story deals with a lot of trauma, think hard about which way you want to go.
  3. Whose story are you telling? If the character is foremost in your planning, or the most well-developed part of your story, you probably know who should be telling the story.
    • NOTE: Sometimes who you think the story is about isn’t the main character at all.  Things happening behind the scenes can be just as exciting as the things on the main stage.
  4. What does your reader need to know? Sometimes, the plot needs the audience to know things that the main character won’t know.
  5. Are you sure your point of view character is the right choice for your world? Think about your intended point of view characters in relation to what the story is actually talking about. Exploring a real world setting and culture through the eyes of an insider OR an outsider can be done wrong. I’m not here to tell you to ‘stay in your lane’ or anything like that, but this sort of story needs to be told with open eyes, respect for the culture you’re exploring, and definitely consult with people from that culture and background. There are nuances that no amount of study will ever be able to convey.

Do you have a favorite point of view to read? Is it different when you write?

How do you choice your point of view — and point of view characters?

Drafting a Manuscript Using Voice to Text

Voice-to-text has come a long way. I used to have to deepen my voice to what I call a “mansetto” to get any voice activated device to even listen to me. Even now, I know that my excited voice, which is higher pitch, isn’t going to be as accurate.

But, I’ve been using voice-to-text on chats, if I’m multitasking. And, a couple weeks ago, when running errands, I had a plot idea I didn’t want to forget. So, at an empty stop sign, I triggered voice-to-text and narrated my notes.

And it worked.

This whole year, I’ve been struggling with adding words to my space fantasy that I started back in November, for NaNoWriMo. I thought adding a new point-of-view character would help, and it did, but not enough. I managed 5,000 words in all of January.

The ubiquitous “they” say that if you’re having trouble getting the words to flow, try something new: a new font, a new writing location, a new story, a new writing program.

So, Friday, during a live write-in with Sarah Scharnweber, (you can often find me on her Friday night write-ins from 8-10pm ET), I decided to switch things up and try to get my words in verbally. And… oh-gosh-oh-geez it WORKED!

What Software Do You Need?

When I mentioned I’d tried this, this was the first question out of most writer’s mouths (well, keyboards, this was a virtual conversation).

I’m not using any fancy apps, although I did upgrade my phone last year. My technique was straightforward.

  1. I had my Samsung S10e phone
  2. I opened my Gmail
  3. I hit “compose” in the lower right
  4. I made sure my cursor was in the body of the email (a couple times, the keyboard didn’t show up, so I left the ‘compose’ window, reopened, and tried again)
  5. I triggered the microphone button for voice-to-text

That’s it.

I admit, I’m a recovering google fangirl. But about the time they dropped “do no evil” from their corporate guidelines, I devolved to simply a user. The advantage to using gmail is that it saves and auto-syncs with my email on any other device. While I do write in google docs (if you’re having trouble loading large documents, turn on ‘work offline’ as an option), I didn’t want to deal with loading a full manuscript, and I wanted to review the text before adding it to my draft. Plus, gmail is always loaded and I didn’t want to waste the navigating to a new document plus load time.

Besides, for me, I often save story ideas and snippets in my gmail drafts folder, so this is normal for me.

5 Tips For Writing Using Voice-To-Text

1 – Keep your voice slow and calm

As I mentioned earlier, excited voices, especially if you have a higher pitched voice, often run into trouble with voice-to-text programs. Speaking slowly and clearly gives the app the best chance to get the most accurate transcription.

2 – Voice your punctuation

I’ve been using voice-to-text lightly for years. “Comma” and “period” have been staples that have managed to find their way into voicemails, making me feel extra silly. As of this week, I’ve now mastered the “quote” to start or end a quotation, as well as “new line”, which works just like the enter key.

I recommend single new-lining after each paragraph, so when you copy it into your manuscript, the spacing will need the fewest adjustments to be in proper manuscript format. I had been double-new-lining, so learn from my mistakes.

3 – Use placeholder names

This one is pretty obvious. Voice-to-text will likely struggle with fantasy names, so do what I do and just use easily recognized names that you can easily find-and-replace.

4 – Reread every paragraph to make sure it’s still recording and isn’t too inaccurate

The few writers I talked to who have tried voice-to-text writing and vowed “never again” shared horror stories of long writing sessions where the recorder stopped five minutes in. I’m new to this, and I like to make sure future-me will know what I meant to say. So, by rereading each paragraph, I can repeat a phrase that the transcriptor botched, and, validate that the recording is still functioning. Then again, I’d started off manually adding those double ‘new lines’ so maybe I’ll calm down when I get more used to it?

5 – Copy each writing session into your main draft as soon as you finish

Voice-to-text is not perfect, it’s going to need some clean up. If you’re like me, the cleanup necessary for even a full chapter might seem intimidating. I enjoyed doing 15-21 minute sprints, and then copying the transcription over and cleaning it up right then. While I still remembered what any transcription errors meant to say, and while the task was still a matter of minutes, rather than hours or days.


Now, I’ve only been trying this for a week now, and I’m sure I’ll write by hand plenty as well. But, as long as it’s working, I’m not going to knock it.


Have you ever tried voice-to-text? Have you used it for writing?

Have you ever switched something up and found it helped your words?

What To Do When Your Manuscript Is The Wrong Length

If you’ve tried to write a manuscript, you’ve probably been at one end of the scale or the other, before. It’s hard to get a manuscript — or even a short story — to end up at the right word count. I know I’ve talked about this before, but a refresher never hurts.

While I’m not cutting down a manuscript to size right now, when a friend asked me for help, I called on all my experience and notes. My first manuscript originally ended at 120,000 words. I trimmed it to 80,000, edited it back up to around 95,000, then trimmed it down under 90,000 again.

For my current work-in-progress, I realized my word count was going to be on the short side, and there was a lot more story I could tell.

So. Let’s talk about how to get your manuscript to the wordcount you need, starting on the low end and working our way up.

If You Need 20,000 words or more

You’re going to have to add a major component. The easiest way to do this is what I’m doing in my current work-in-progress — to add another point-of-view character. But, a side quest can work as well, especially if it’s filtered into the story, not just spliced into the middle.

If You Need Less Than 20,000 words

This is where you’re going to want to flesh out your scenes, or add more internal monologue. Whatever you typically leave sparse when drafting. Perhaps a few character building scenes that flesh out the main and secondary characters and make your readers care more.

If You Need To Cut Less Than 20,000 Words

If it’s just a few thousand, or less than 10% of your work-in-progress (WIP), you can probably get away with cleaning up paragraphs, trimming sentences, and streamlining action.

You might start off looking at each of your scenes. Many writers find that they start scenes too early, and go longer than they need to be. Look at your scenes and chapters — can you trim paragraphs or pages from either end?

If You Need To Cut Over 20,000 Words

If you need to remove 10%-25% of your work in progress? Unless you are focused on one aspect, to the detriment of the story (be it descriptions, all the stage directions, info-dumps, or other) you’re going to have to work a bit harder.

You can try combining background characters, or even secondary characters, and dropping subplots. Perhaps even getting rid of a point-of-view character.

If You Need To Cut Over 50,000 Words

Sometimes, this happens with excessive world building. Sometimes, you’re following too many characters. Sometimes, the plot is too large for one book.

But usually? Just split the story. Find an emotional arch and partial goal and split the story there — or see where you could create one.


Have you ever had to massively adjust wordcount on a project? How did you do it?

If You’re Not Making Progress, Change Direction

There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.

But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.

I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.

This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.

When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.

Types of Stories

We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.

  1. “Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
  2. “Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
  3. “Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
  4. “Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
  5. “Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
  6. “Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy

What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story

For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.

Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.

With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.

But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.

I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.

I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.

Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.

I’ve attended panels on writing villains before, but I’ve never written one. Let’s see how this turns out.


Have you ever been writing the wrong story?

Have you ever read a story that you thought was going to be one type, but ended up being another? Did you like the shift?