I was recently asked about whether giving writing tips would create a bunch of people who write like I do.
It’s a good question, and here’s the answer: No.
The question was actually more involved than I’m expressing here, but I’m not giving tips to get people to do what I do; I didn’t think all this stuff up. I spent years in critique groups learning the stuff that matters, the stuff that most modern readers will require from their authors, and I share it with you.
I also add my take on things (you see that in every post) and I definitely show my preferences about what I like (my Word Weaver Writing Contests, for example, one of which is happening RIGHT NOW), but I like your ideas, too. Heck, I learn stuff from the kids in my Young Authors Clubs – some are in 3rd grade.
I’ll take good input from anyone, without fear.
That right there make me different from most writers.
More on that in a sec, but I’m not the least bit worried about creating competition or clones; I’d love to help a hundred people become famous writers so I have a hundred famous writer friends who can help me become a better writer. (If I get rich and famous out of it, I’m all for that, too.)
Have YOU entered yet?
and you might get published
Click HERE for more info and to enter!
The main goal of doing a lot of this is to help you become a better writer so you can help me become a better writer.
I was surprised one time at work when one of our corporate people was going over some stuff – things I considered pretty easy – and he said, “Not everyone can do the things you can do, Dan.”
It was very surprising to hear.
I always believed with the proper training and motivation, everyone could do the things I could do.
The fact is, they can’t.
But there are many reasons why, and not all are related to being Dan.
For example, I’m never gonna be an NBA player. At 5’10” I’m just not tall enough. (That’s okay, because I hate basketball anyway. After golf, it’s gotta be one of the most boring sports ever – but I bet a lot of NBA players think writing is dull, you know?)
But writing is a little different. You don’t have to be tall. Or athletic. Or able to put a ball in a hoop or a hole in the ground or any of that stuff.
You do have to be other things, though. That’s where the differences come in.
In writing, certain people are just more science oriented than I am, so their books are going to lean that way when mine don’t.
Other people don’t want any hint of comedy in their stories. Mine tend to have at least one joker in the deck and occasionally a deck full of jokers.
Not every writer is willing to put in the time and effort to learn the techniques necessary.
Not every writer is aware enough to see the weak spot in their stories.
Or to accept the constructive criticism from others.
Or would go in author forums and ask embarrassingly simple questions so that they could learn.
Then there is simply the “art” of storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always a very good storyteller in person. I tend to think out loud when I try to tell a story, and I can drag on… But that same methodology works very well in writing because I can go back and edit, and because critique partners will tell me where they dozed off!
When it comes to style, I’m not worried about creating a bunch of Dan clones because if I was to look at their stories I would make suggestions. Maybe they follow the suggestion, maybe they don’t. I do this all the time for people when I edit stories for other authors.
There’s a particular scene in a story I just read where everybody sits down before going to battle and they’re having sandwiches almost like they’re at a party. I suggested the author take out all the party-type references. The author found the contrast between the coming battle and the semi-party atmosphere of the lunch to be very ironic. She chose to leave it in. I wouldn’t have put it in in the first place.
And ultimately you could give 10 writers the exact same outline and they would all write different stories.
So my style is what’s “best” for me because people find my written voice and style entertaining. They find me on video to be engaging and energetic.
That’s not by accident.
I work very hard to make my writing as good as it can be, and I rarely show you the awful first drafts. (But I have! Very publicly! And I showed you the boring bits I took out after having people tell me they sucked.)
Similarly, videos I make that are dull don’t tend to see the light of day.
And anyone stopping by the house might find me sitting around my living room on any given day being very boring! But aren’t we all?
What I try to do when I give writing tips is:
steer people away from things I know are mistakes, and things understood as mistakes across the board, by most writers and readers; and
steer them towards things that are more acceptable and more engaging and more interesting across the board.
After that, the next level is: this would make me laugh, or this would make me cry, or this would make me whatever.
That’s usually what they don’t bring to the table. They don’t open their soul and pour their heart on the page.
When they do, that usually connects with the reader.
Unfortunately, most writers are too timid to do that.
It was extremely difficult to write about the time we spent in the neonatal intensive care unit worrying that my daughter would die. It was a very personal moment and one I was not sure my wife would appreciate me sharing with strangers. But I knew* to tell the story I had to tell that part or the rest didn’t make sense. Equally, writing about the death of a beloved pet was just impossibly hard to do. I cried every time I sat at the keyboard.
* How did I “know”? Because I had a job for a few years where I drove around a lot on appointments, and I got bored listening to the same top 40 songs all day every day, so I listened to talk radio. It was a conversation and it was different every day. Politics, sports, humor, whatever. And the people in that business – ones who’d been doing it for years and years – occasionally said listeners can sniff out a phony. And when they would take a rare moment to open up about a personal topic – one joker radio guy’s wife died after a long struggle with AIDs. His on-air partners weren’t jokers that day. We all cried. After listening to these people for a while, the ones who have been successful collecting and keeping listeners for decades, you believe them when they tell you that the best stuff is real, open-hearted honesty, or going where the pain is, or the love – all that super personal stuff. I’ve found it to be true in writing, too.
But because I opened myself up and exposed that kind of vulnerability to my audience, they knew they could trust me and from then on they were eating out of the palm of my hand.
I discovered I could play readers like a piano, making them laugh or cry or fall in love…
– but only because I invested in them first, openly and honestly, and on a true level that connected.
I will write about whatever the story demands, investing the time to learn as much as I can about how to write it, and then writing it to the best of my ability – and changing it when valued critique partners say it doesn’t work.
I think those things work overall, and I try to help others get there. If the things I suggest works for someone, it’s likely to take their writing to the next level. If those things don’t work for a certain writer, maybe a different author is the one to take their guidance from. There’s not that many out there who are willing to share so many ideas.
Yes, there are rules. Punctuation matters. Acceptable styles change over the years. Readers’ requirements in stories evolve.
As well it all should. But…
Great Writing Makes Its Own Rules.
Do you DARE to be GREAT? To even attempt it?
I’m trying. Nobody can accuse me of not being ambitious in my writing. But I don’t pretend I’ll get there alone.
Ultimately, I like to think of this as a team effort, me trying to help others and them helping me, and all of us improving along the way!
And I’m very glad to have you on the team.