Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ADVICE I'VE BEEN GIVEN by Jackie Lee Miles

The assignment this month has me worried: What advice would you offer new writers? I’m not usually handing out advice. I’m in search of it. And the first person I contact on my search is my friend and author Karin Gillespie. She truly has all the answers and is eager to share all that she knows when you ask. She’s an angel and a god-send.

So what do I know about writing and what can I share with writers who are eager to be published? First off, let me tell you five things I’ve been told and then I will share with you five things that I actually do. I’ve been told to:

Write everyday.

This is very good advice. It reminds me of what my mother used to tell me, “If you want to keep riding, better stay on the horse.” Writing everyday keeps your muse in touch with your brain. If you don’t write everyday you will get rusty. You will get lazy. You will have trouble connecting to your muse. Actually, I was told to write everyday. All the other sentences above are ones I filled in on my own, because that is what that sentence Write everyday did to me. It made be very fearful. When the experts said write every day, I figured if I didn’t, I was doomed. I was a goner. I’d never produce anything. So I try to write everyday.

Write what you know.

This too, is good advice. If you write what you know there will be less research you need to do. You can finish your manuscript faster. If you write what you know you will never look stupid; you won’t have to make things up, you can pass on what you know. This particular instruction to write what I know scared the he-be-ge-beze out of me because I really don’t know all that much. I know I just like to write.

Write in a journal.

All good writers I have met at book conferences and book festivals insist that they write in journals. And they insist that they have done so since second grade when they learned cursive. Obviously, writing in a journal is a very valuable experience. The contents can be mined later for all sorts of information to put in your novels. You will not forget tidbits from your past that could be useful when constructing them. Obviously writing in a journal is very important.

Join a critique group.

And the sooner, the better. They will let you know if you are running astray. They will offer valuable information that will tell you if your novel is going in the right direction or not. Critique groups are essential for your literary growth. You will become a stronger, more prolific writer by having a critique group to analyze your work.

Do not edit while you are writing your first draft.

This is very important guidance. It is an important rule and it is a pity that I do not follow it. But then I’ve always had trouble with rules. Aren’t they meant to be broken?

Okay, now for five things that I do:

Consider the first rule: Write every day.

I write every other day. The day in between I read. I read what I’ve written. I read from books that are like mine. I read from books that have a similar voice to mine. I read from books that are different from mine. I just read, read, read, period and see where it takes me. By the next day I am more than eager to write. I am anxious to write. Why not? I’ve been reading, reading, reading.

The second rule: Write what you know.

This is a good rule. I don’t follow it. I write what I love. I figure what I don’t know I will promptly find out. When you write what you know, it’s too easy. The words fall onto the page. What joy is there in that? When you write what you don’t know you spend hours researching. The words spill onto the page like they’ve been drained from your blood.

The third rule: Write in a journal.

I have never kept a journal. I do not want a reminder of all my days. The good ones I remember all on my own. The bad ones I’m hoping to forget. Like the time I almost let my sister drown. Or the day she nearly choked on a jelly bean. These memories are fifty years old. I don’t need a journal to recall them. These and memories like them come visit me all on their own.

Number four: Join a critique group.

This is excellent advice. I believe in critique groups. And I even joined one once. That particular one was too far away to continue, so I quit going. I should have searched for another group and I didn’t. And then I had no trouble getting published, so I figured why bother. Again, do not do what I do, do what the experts say: Join a critique group. You won’t be sorry.

Lastly: Do not edit while you write your first draft:

I do not follow this rule, either. I edit constantly as I am writing, but do not do what I do, do what the experts say. Editing while you write means it will take you forever to finish your novel. It did not take me forever, but then I am weird, so again do not edit while you are writing. It’s a written rule that I have read many times and I believe that it is true. I just can’t follow it. I naturally edit while I’m writing and immediately after I write, especially if I am re-reading what I’ve written. Besides, I have always had trouble with rules. Aren’t they meant to be broken?

One major rule that I believe in and one that I feel should not be broken is to:

Read, read, read—everything you can get your hands on. Read all the genres that are like the genres you are writing in. Read genres that are unlike your own. Read all of the best sellers. This is what the public is buying. Read all of the literature of old that teaches the way the written word should fall upon the page.

My last rule is for you not to take too seriously anything I say. Who knows how far I will get in my writing career? Exactly. So dear writer: beware. And God speed and God bless you on your writing journey.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, and Divorcing Dwayne. Look for the release of All That’s True in the 2010.

Visit the website at Write to the author at


Ad Hudler said...

Hey, Jackie....all of this is really good advice. I especially like the alternating days between reading and writing.
Say 'hey' to "Dwayne."

Ad Hudler

Anonymous said...

Hi Ad,
I have a new book coming out!!! Sourcebooks picked up my latest, All That's True. This is good news since they dropped the Dwayne Series. Hope to see you at the Decature Book Festival. Linda Sands and the Divas and I are going to bounce around. Best to you great man,
Jackie Lee Miles