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Tuesday, June 19

Writing Advice for Writers Just Starting Out

By Jamie Ford, @jamieford

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: With so much writing advice out there (this site alone will have close to 3000 articles by the end of the year), it can be challenging for new writers to find advice on what to do and how to manage their writing. Jamie Ford visits the lecture hall today to share his tips for writers beginning their writing journey.

Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer, Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations.

His debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and has been optioned for film and stage. His second book, Songs of Willow Frost, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into 35 languages. (He’s still holding out for Klingon, because that’s when you know you’ve made it).

His latest novel, Love and Other Consolations Prizes is available in trade paperback today.

When not writing or daydreaming, he can be found tweeting and posting on Instagram.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram

Take it away Jamie...

First of all, I generally feel reluctant to dispense advice. Why? Because, who knows, maybe I just got lucky? (Ah, can you sense that brooding confidence? That twitch in my swagger? We writers are a hopelessly insecure lot).

Or, I avoid spouting off because it’s still relatively early in my writing career, so come back in thirty years after I’ve published ten books including my magnum opus—a 1,200-page epic, written in second-person plural, which Publisher’s Weekly will rave about despite my not using commas, periods, paragraph breaks, or the letter Q.

But most of all, I tend to shy away from advice because honestly, what works for me might not work for you. That handy disclaimer being stated, here are a few tidbits:

Expect to plink away


As a writer, allow a healthy margin for self-improvement. You wouldn’t sit down at the piano for the first time and try to play Mozart, would you? Of course not, you’d sit down and play scales and work your way up. But so many aspiring authors sit down at the keyboard and try to play Beethoven—they try to write an epic seven-book series, with twenty point-of-view characters, and when it doesn’t turn out well they think, “I guess I’m not a writer.” It doesn’t work that way. Start small. Write a short story with a single POV. Then kick the training wheels off when you’re ready.

Stop scraping burnt toast


Avoid being wedded to one idea, or rehashing the same idea over and over if it’s not working. Move on. Step away from that 300,000-word slipstream fantasy you began in the 8th grade. It’ll still be there, I promise. It’s time to write something else. Good writers will always find more words, an inexhaustible supply. Don’t become so invested in that first story, that first character, that first…whatever, that you keep revising and editing until you’re left with a Frankenstein-like mass of scar tissue.

Write for the most important audience of all: yourself


Write stories that fill the void in your imagination. By that I mean, write stories that are important to you, that answer your own questions. Don’t write for a perceived market or target audience. Octavia Butler, who wrote science fiction, once said, “There are no black people in the future, therefore the future is a dangerous place.” Instead of writing to reflect that genre, she explored her own point of view and shattered the expectations of others.

Writing is hard. Being a writer is easy


I was once asked, “Which do you like more—writing, or the idea of being a writer?” It was, and is, a very delicate and powerful question. If you enjoy the process of writing, you’ll eventually do well. But if you romanticize the idea of being a writer, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. In that case, keep your day job, buy a Vespa, and hang out at Starbucks and brood a lot. You can enjoy all of the affectations without the struggle.

You’re lost, but you’re making good time


A good friend once told me that writer’s block is basically your subconscious telling you “this sucks.” There’s some truth to that. While others will tell you, “Keep writing, press on—finish at all costs. You can rewrite it later.” I prefer to listen to that inner voice that says, “Hey, did we just miss our turn back there?” Go back, cut what’s not working and start again. Rewrites are too painful.

Avoid the beauty contest


We all have our favorite author, storyteller, or prose-stylist that makes us go all drooly when we savor their work. Stop reading them, at least for a while. Doing so is like leafing through fashion magazines if you’re trying to lose weight—they’ll only make you feel fat. Instead, go to a garage sale and spend 25¢ on three, random, out-of-print paperbacks by unknown authors, and force yourself to read them. Analyze them. Pick them apart for all their faults and weaknesses. Then you’ll be more apt to notice those same mistakes in your own writing.

And lastly, be cautious of free advice.


About Love and Other Consolations Prizes

For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home.”

The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known—and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.

But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.

Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

Against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is an enchanting tale about innocence and devotion—in a world where everything, and everyone, is for sale.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

1 comment:

  1. Precious and timely. Loved all the points especially no. 3 & 6.

    ReplyDelete