Thursday, May 09, 2019

What Writing Advice Has Most Resonated with You?

By Ray Flynt

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: There's a lot of writing advice out there--some good, some bad, and some that's just not for you. Ray Flynt returns to the lecture hall today to share the writing advice that has resonated the most with him. 

My website identifies me as: Author and Actor. My acting began in college and continued in community theatre as a volunteer. In more recent years, I developed a one-man play where I portray Ben Franklin. I’ve earned a little money for my theatre work, which makes me a professional. By now you’re thinking, Fiction University. Shouldn’t this blog post focus on writing? I’m getting there. Bear with me.

Recently I read a theatre blog that began with, “Every acting teacher thinks that their particular method is the best.” That’s understandable, because they know it so well. The same holds true when people recommend a computer operating system – PC versus Mac. In most instances, their recommendation correlates with the one they are most familiar with. I witnessed the same effect in a workshop at which web hosting platforms were discussed; although the presenter noted several options, she leaned toward advocating for the particular system she used. Another example: Ask people their preference on using Microsoft Word versus Word Perfect versus Scrivener.

As writers, we routinely visit blogs, do Google searches, and attend workshops/conferences seeking advice and best practices. The newbie writer wants to know “Where do I start?” The person with a completed novel or two under their belt hungers for a way to take their process to the next level. Even the most experienced hand looks to peers for nuggets of wisdom.

(Here's more on Writers: Ignore This Writing Advice. If You Want.)

We humans aren’t sponges. We don’t automatically soak up words of wisdom imparted by knowledgeable, well-intentioned bloggers, speakers, workshop presenters, or even friends. Instead, we have a sort-of force field surrounding us that only allows us absorb what resonates. Perhaps because it strikes a chord with our pre-conceived ideas, or is a concept that fits with our established patterns. If we’re a morning person and a speaker advises the best time to write is first thing in the morning, we may flash a thumbs up.

A small press published my first book in 2005, and I’ve been an Indie Author since 2011. I’ve picked up a lot of advice over the years, and today I’m sharing writing advice that’s resonated most with me.

1. Write what you like to read

Writing is a solitary process. It can take months or longer to finish a manuscript. One of the best ways to keep yourself engaged is to think about your writing heroes and bring to the page what you enjoy most about their style. Readers have a variety of tastes. If you can keep yourself interested in your own story, there are bound to be others who will enjoy what you’ve written.

2. Make your high school English teacher proud

A college theatre professor once told me, “An audience will forgive nearly anything from an actor as long as they can hear what’s being said.” Most readers will forgive your prose as long as you get the basics right. That’s easy enough to do with spell-check, grammar programs, critique partners, beta readers, and line editors who can check and double-check your work. You wouldn’t go to a job interview without looking your best. Likewise, don’t look sloppy on the page. This advice is especially true for Indie Authors. Major publishing houses have editing steps in place to ensure a quality product hits the shelves. If you want your work to be competitive, you can’t afford not to give your manuscript the attention it deserves.

3. Active verbs

To be, or not to be. Even Shakespeare couldn’t avoid passive voice. Using the find feature on your word processing program, search a chapter you’ve written for how many times “was” appears. Without trying too hard, I bet you can re-work a few sentences to eliminate at least half of those “was” words. You’ll enliven your prose. As a test, I reviewed my first five paragraphs above and got rid of four instances where I had used “was.” You can even practice using active verbs in emails or texts. It will help keep you in the habit for your fiction writing. Let verbs do the heavy lifting. Instead of: “She went to the door,” try, “She raced to the door,” or, “She crept toward the door,” or, “She shuffled to the door.” Each of those simple substitutions conjures a different—more vibrant--image of what the character is up to.

4. Don’t confuse the reader

When a reader cracks open a book and begins the opening chapter they’re looking for essential information. Who’s telling this story? Where are we? What’s the timeframe? This doesn’t all have to be revealed in the first paragraph, but if you try to be cute and withhold those basics, you run the risk of them hurling the book against the wall if they don’t find out until page 30 that your story is set in the 18th Century. By all means, prompt questions to draw the reader in—questions that you will eventually answer. However, you don’t want them muttering “Huh?” instead of saying “Wow.”

On the subject of creating confusion, pay attention to the antecedent to which a pronoun refers. Example: Mary looked distressed. Shelly knew she wouldn’t be able to forge the river. Does the pronoun refer to Shelly or Mary?

5. Read your manuscript aloud as part of your editing process.

My most recent best-practice revelation involves reading my manuscript aloud. It reveals awkward phrasing, word repetition, potential run-on sentences, and overall readability. As an alternative to using your own voice, you can use text-to-voice programs. Microsoft Word has such a built-in capability; just highlight what you’d like to have read and then click on the tiny “speak selected text” icon at the top of the page.

Finally, in the comments section below please share a piece of writing advice you’ve picked up over the years that most resonated with you.

Ray Flynt authors two series: Brad Frame mysteries, and one featuring journalist Ryan Caldwell. He’s also written a political suspense, KISSES OF AN ENEMY. A native of Pennsylvania, Ray wrote and performs a one-man play based on the life of Ben Franklin. Ray is a member of Mystery Writers of    America and active with their Florida Chapter. He is a life member of the Florida Writers Association. Ray retired from a diverse career in criminal justice, education, the arts, and human services.

Website | Goodreads |

About Unforgiving Shadows

Brad Frame lived a serene but aimless existence on Philadelphia’s Main Line until his mother and sister were kidnapped and murdered.

The tragedy transformed his life.

After helping the police catch their killers, and with the aid of his mentor, Philadelphia Detective Nick Argostino, Brad opened his own private detective agency vowing to help bring justice to others whose lives had been turned upside down.

Eleven years later, Brad is invited to the execution by lethal injection of Frank Wilkie, one of two men responsible for the death of his mother and sister.

Thinking that Wilkie might have something to say, Brad reluctantly attends. Wilkie remains silent, but as Brad exits the prison the chaplain races after him, thrusting the condemned man’s Bible into his hands.

Within hours another man is anxious to get his hands on Wilkie’s Bible, and Brad suspects the motivation could involve the still-missing ransom money.

But as the reason becomes clear, Brad’s world is once again turned upside down. Aided by his associate, Sharon Porter, Brad unravels an eleven-year-old mystery that casts new suspicion on family, neighbors and business associates alike.

UNFORGIVING SHADOWS is the first book in the successful Brad Frame Mystery Series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Indie Bound | 


  1. The protagonist needs to have a goal for every scene. If there is no goal, there is no tension

  2. Sometimes setting a deadline for one's work is not a good thing because you really don't know how long your creative project will take. Trust the process by trying to do some work each day or as much as you can. Sometimes when we set deadlines, we beat ourselves up when we don't make the deadline. This leads to more negative thoughts and more procrastination.