Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some of the best advice I've ever received

In the midst of my home office make-over this weekend, I found a pile of notebooks filled with advice from various published authors.

Over the years, I've attended amazing writing conferences and studied under bestselling authors such as Steve Berry, John Saul, Gary Braver, and James Rollins.

As a former journalist, I'm good at taking notes - and often get slotted as the "minute taker" in most meetings. Years later, I can still read my home-made shorthand and it's easy to decipher the gist of what's being said, even if I can't translate entire paragraphs.

Perusing the notes I'd taken at various conferences over the years was like an unexpected boost to my motivation yesterday. Not only had many of these authors provided useful (and complimentary) feedback, but they also provided a plethora of advice.

I've often blogged about Steve Berry's 8 Rules of Craft - I've read them so many times each is committed to memory. (Write tight!) And though I've often debated with other writers about their validity, I remain a loyal student. I DO believe you can't break the rules until you learn them. There's a reason Steve continually hits the NY Times Bestseller list.

But it wasn't his rules that caught my attention this weekend. Instead, I stumbled upon notes I'd taken from listening to James Rollins. 

James is one of those success stories that create immediate writer envy. Discovered at the Maui Writer's Conference (sadly, the MWC has come to an end), James wrote several books under the pen name Clemens before venturing into his now awe-inspiring Sigma series (and a handful of amazing stand-alone books.) For his full bio, and impressive list of successes (movie deal! YA books! script adaptations!), you can check out his website at www.jamesrollins.com. 

While his books always seem to inspire me, it was actually his advice that reminded me of how much I miss seeing him. He's a straight shooter with a generous heart. Truly, he wants to see people succeed. I've leaned more than once on his list of ways to create sympathetic characters (available on his website) and looked to his action scenes for how to craft them in my own work.

But there's two phrases I jotted down several times in the last five years, both accounting for some of the best writing advice I've ever received.


As in - be specific. Specific places. Specific makes of cars. Specific details that ground the reader in authenticity. 

Great advice.

But perhaps more importantly is this gem:

I give myself permission to write crap today.

It's the phrase James often sticks to his computer while working on the latest WIP, a reminder that every sentence doesn't have to flow the first time. Doesn't need to be perfect or poetic. Doesn't even need to make sense.

Both sticky notes are posted beside my computer (along with Steve's 8 Rules of Craft). Specificity I can wrap my head around. 

It's the second piece of advice I need to work on.

The Book In My Bag Today: Another One Bites The Dust, Jennifer Rardin


  1. I will be sure to write crap all day today!!!

  2. Haha,Me too!

    I've been lucky enough, thanks to Dawn to learn these rules too, and I wouldn't be the writer I am today without your help, Dawn<3

  3. That is great advice. Both points are so true. Whenever I'm reading my work and feel 'ugh, it sucks', it's more often than not because it's all so 'general'. But then I add specifics, and it comes to life! Great post!

  4. CANDY - um, I don't know if you know HOW to write crap :-)

    DONNA - The feeling is mutual, sweetheart. LYaWBPuFY <3

    JESSICA - The poetry you allowed me to read was riddled with specifics and truly popped with life. I love seeing real life examples of how it works!

  5. Dawn, do you remember the 'bum glue' one? :-)
    I witness your creativity soar during these conferences and I can attest to James having a HUGE amd profound effect on you.
    I'm glad you cleaned out your den and found those papers, I really am.

  6. JAMIE - Rocky and I often talk about Bum Glue and Bryce Courtney. Most inspirational writer pep talk ever. Sigh. I'm glad I found those papers, too. For many reasons <3

  7. I too, have fond memories of Jim Rollins. How he (and you) tried to talk me into the 20 foot jump in Fiji, and succeeded when the Fijian guide "helped" me down. :-) Seriously, he knows his stuff. Thanks for reminding us!

  8. Very timely advice with NaNoWriMo coming up, yes? I haven't been to conferences, as I've entered writing in the midst of my 'obligated to others' phase of my life, so thank you for passing on the wisdom!

  9. HART - I've been toying with NaNo this year. Sigh. I kind of did it last year, but realized after the first week I had too much on my plate. I still do, but it might be the kick in the butt I need. Any NaNo advice?! (And as a new wife and stepmom, I get the "obligated" phase. I haven't been to a conference in a while. Getting the jitters!)

  10. ROCKSTAR - Fiji! What a wonderful adventure that was - one of the best conferences ever. So happy we both made that leap, in more ways than one. xo

  11. The second one is tough, you're right! But it's important. I'm going to do that today and see what comes out. Thanks!

  12. Wonderful! Thanks for posting this. And I just LOVE the thought of those notebooks of yours - what treasures they are! I'm off to check out that list on how to create sympathetic characters now!

  13. SUZANNE - Sending you good writing vibes, my dear. Hugs.

    BELLE - Yay! Let me know how you make out. I find myself going through the list with every character, breathing a sigh of relief when something clicks :-) Hm. My hubby doesn't find my notebook piles to be much of a treasure...I used to buy a new notebook once a week. Can't anymore, but I admit, I have a problem :-)

  14. I love his advice. Nobody can be perfect every day. It's often during the days of crap that we learn the good stuff for the other days. :)

  15. BLUE - Thanks for stopping by! And you are so right!

  16. It's a good idea to go through notes from conferences and workshops - it reminds us of the good stuff we've learned. good post, thanks!

  17. Thanks JAN. Are you excited about your upcoming conference? I should have registered... Next time :-0)