The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received
People often ask me what is the best piece of writing advice I have ever received. As every aspiring writer who is not on the New York Times Bestseller list can tell you, there is a lot of writing advice out there. Given the sheer volume of advice, the question isn’t what is the best writing advice, but rather determining what is the best advice for you. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question.
For me, the best writing advice I ever received came in three separate installments from three separate sources. The first piece of writing advice that I found most useful was the strong suggestion to read Stephen King’s On Writing. As an aspiring writer with virtually no writing background, On Writing, probably saved me from several hundred hours of misguided writing adventures. While it may be less useful for those writers out there with MFA degrees and long careers, for those with less academic exposure, or experience with the professional editing process, the book is should be considered a mandatory read.
The second best piece of writing advice that I received was “write when you can.” While attending a writer’s conference several years ago, one of the panel discussions turned to the effective use of time and location for writing. There were various schools of thought in the room, however, the majority of the room agreed with idea that a writer should do their best to adhere to a strict writing schedule in a set location. The pros and cons of writing with structure were further debated, and after much back and forth, the most seasoned writer on the panel (whose name I cannot recall) finally spoke. His advice was simple: “write when you can.” The seasoned writer then compared writing to fishing and summed it up with an analogy that basically said, “if you wait for perfect weather to go fishing, you are going to waste a lot of days in between that would have been good enough.” While I wrote virtually my entire first novel in the same chair, in the same location, listening to the same CD, I can now write anywhere as long as I have a computer and a pair of earphones.
The final piece of writing advice that I received was also via a writer’s conference several years ago. There was a guest author speaking at the writer conference who concluded a rather lengthy talk on the publishing industry with the following: Looking out at the audience the writer (whose name once again I cannot recall) asked how many people in the room were either writing their first book or trying to get it published. A majority of the room raised their hand. Then the writer said that most of the people in the room were probably better writers than he was despite the fact that he had several bestselling books. The speaker waited for the crowd to digest what he said and then continued with, “But I am probably better at one thing than anyone else in this room…getting to The End.”
And that piece of writing advice, more than any other, keeps me looking forward.
Mark Gilleo has a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business from George Mason University. He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking. He speaks Japanese. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the DC area.