Over the years I've accumulated an assortment of advice about writing here on the Misenchanted Page, from me and sometimes others, to would-be and beginning writers. These tidbits have been gathered from articles, poems, letters, e-mail, Usenet posts, and various other things I've written (or read) over the past thirty-plus years. Some of the advice may be somewhat out of date, especially given the current upheaval in the publishing business brought on by ebooks, chain bookstore bankruptcies, and so on, but most of it is still sound.
This page is in two sections:
- Miscellaneous Advice and Collected Words of Wisdom:
Brief items -- too short for their own pages, but stuff you would-be writers should read.
- About the Links to More of My Advice:
Just what's on all those other pages on the Misenchanted Page?
Miscellaneous Advice and Collected Words of Wisdom:
- Don't worry about selling the story you wrote. Worry about writing a story that will sell itself.
- Just because someone says he knows something doesn't mean he does. The world's full of "writers" and "agents" and "editors" who have no clue what they're doing.
- Yog's Rule: Money flows toward the writer. Any business that wants the writer to put up money should be avoided. A business that takes a cut of money on its way to the writer, such as an agent taking a commission, is acceptable, but the direction of flow should always be toward you, never away.
- It's not an editor's job to be fair to writers. It's an editor's job to make money for his publisher by acquiring and packaging books people want to read. Writing professionally is not a contest or a competition or a sweepstakes; it's a business, and you're on the selling end in a buyer's market. Expect editors to treat you not like a beloved student, but like a salesman who's interrupting them -- you'd better have a product that'll make the interruption worthwhile, and the manners to convince them to look at it.
- "I'm often asked if writing classes are any help, and my immediate and enthusiastic answer is always, Yes! Writing classes are wonderful for the writers who teach them and can't make ends meet without that supplementary income. They are also good places for unattached people to meet, talk about books and movies, have a few drinks and possibly hook up. But teach you to write? No. A writing class will not teach you to write."
--Stephen King, "The Writing life," Washington Post Book World, October 1, 2006
- "Like it or not, there is a culture of unpublished writers. It includes its own mythology (sending yourself your own ms by registered mail to somehow secure magical protection from plagiarism and copyright infringement), superstitions (paperclip or not?), hagiography and so on. In that culture it's a fairly widespread belief that there is no real communication between an editor and an unknown writer."
-- Fred Welden, SFF-Net, Feb. 1999
If you are an unpublished writer, it's easy to be drawn into the culture Fred describes. It's easy to accept its mythology. You'll find dozens of people who believe it all implicitly.
Some of that mythology is useful information; much of it is pernicious nonsense and superstition that will only get in your way.
- There's a whole industry out there advising beginning writers, feeding off the culture mentioned above. Some of it is honest and helpful; some isn't. Let me point you toward a few resources and warn you away from a few others:
- SFWA's Webpage has a lot of good advice, regardless of what genre you're writing in -- the same basics apply.
- There are a couple of bits worth reading at HWA's site, too.
- The SFWA Bulletin can generally be trusted.
- Writer's Digest, alas, is not trustworthy -- I think they're basically well-intentioned, but much of their income comes from paid ads from people who prey on unsuspecting would-be writers, so they'll sometimes give advice that's designed not so much to help beginners as to keep their advertisers in business.
- If you have the sort of personality that can handle the rough-and-tumble of Usenet newsgroups, rec.arts.sf.composition is aimed at advising beginning writers in the SF/fantasy field, and last time I looked (many years ago) it could be useful. Misc.writing, alas, I cannot recommend; I haven't looked at it in ages, and when I last did the louder voices had triumphed over the more knowledgeable there.
Links to More of My Advice:
- The Rules of Writing: Edited from a Usenet post: What are the hard-and-fast rules a beginner has to follow?
- The Second Draft: An ostensibly silly verse with a very serious point -- the best single piece of advice I can offer perfectionist beginners.
- Watt-Evans' Laws of Fantasy: An article originally published in Starlog on what makes good fantasy, as distinct from any other genre, including:
- Where Do You Get Your Ideas?: An entire short article attempting to answer this age-old question.
- Playing God: Deus ex Machina and Writing Fantasy. A brief article about how and when a fantasy author should play God with his creations.
- Research: "What are You Doing with that Broom?": Not really advice so much as general comments on the subject of doing real-world research to get fantasy-world details right.
- Scientific Magic: What's the Difference Between Science Fiction & Fantasy?: Some of my working definitions; see also Watt-Evans' Laws of Fantasy.
- On Infinite Possibilities: Writing Alternate History: Mostly an explanation of why I generally don't write alternate history.
- What Are Science Fiction Conventions Like?: Thinking of going to your first science fiction convention, and wondering what you'll find? Here's my somewhat out of date description.
- Pros & Cons: Panel Discussions: More about SF conventions.
- "So You Want to Be A Writer...": A series of nine articles of basic advice for the would-be writer, written for fanzines many years ago. Mostly out of date now, but maybe still worth a look.
- Why You Shouldn't Write for Fanzines or the Web: Okay, not the most urgent advice, but it happened to be something I'd gotten worked up about just as I started the series.
- Some Basics: Mostly about self-discipline.
- What Do I Need to Do?: Practical advice on getting started.
- Where Do I Send It?: The basics of submitting your work.
- Do I Need An Agent?: The short answer is "no," but read this for more details. Or see Frequently Asked Questions About Agents.
- What Happens Next: The Contract: Understanding the basics of publishing contracts.
- What Happens Next: After The Contract: What to expect after the sale, and how long it's likely to take.
- The Writing Life: It ain't exactly skittles and beer. Some harsh truths.
- A Writer's Tools: Some closing words on professionalism.
- Frequently-Asked Questions About...
- Agents: There are enough questions asked about this single subject that I've split it off onto its own page. I wrote this (with the help of several friends) for HWA in 1995 and updated it a couple of times; the Oct. 1996 version was on their Webpage last I looked, but I've posted it here on the Misenchanted Page as well, so as to have it under my own control, and so I can update it further if I choose.
- Getting Published: This is mostly not really useful advice; it is, instead, exactly what it says -- the questions I get asked a lot. Many of which are stupid and annoying. For actual advice you should look at the stuff listed above and below, rather than here.
- Writing: Questions about the business of getting a story on paper, not about selling it.
All contents and referenced pages are copyright by Lawrence Watt Evans except as noted.
All rights reserved
No reproduction permitted without permission of the author