I Got Straight As in Bad Advice (Holly Schindler)

Part of what takes so long to get from first sentence to first book deal is that you get so much bad advice. 

Unfortunately, much of mine actually came from my...writing program.

I got a master's in English, emphasis in creative writing. My thesis was creative. I was considered one of the best students in the program. 

And yet...

It took seven and a half years of full time effort to sign my first deal. 

To some extent, that's because I had to unlearn much of what I'd mastered in my program:

*Literary fiction is superior to genre fiction. No, no, no, a thousand times no. I prefer "Easy reading is damn hard writing." It's truer. 

*Along with the above, there was always an emphasis on internal stories, character-driven over plot-driven. IF THERE IS NO PLOT THERE IS NO STORY.

*Show don't tell. I can't begin to describe how over-simplified and useless this rule is. You are telling a story. Essentially, all sentences are telling. And if you get caught up in dramatizing everything, your book will be eleven thousand pages long.

Oh, I could go on. The workshops we had on so many insignificant points. I once came to class and was told, "I have a major problem with this story." Turned out, there was a typo (misspelling) in the title. Granted, you shouldn't have a typo in a title. But it was a typo. It was not a major problem. I also sat through a session in which it was debated whether or not my main character could see through a window in a door at the angle I'd described. 

I didn't get into the finer points of plotting  or story shapes or overall structure until after my first books were published. And it just boggles my mind. I mean, we get into this to tell stories. And yet, we weren't discussing how to actually write stories. We primarily nitpicked description.

Do yourselves a favor. Learn how to put together a story. Find out about the beats of your particular genre. Spin a good yarn. One that keeps people on the edge of their seats. And don't worry about "literary" bells and whistles. 

That's the advice I was I had been given.


  1. One very fortunate part of my writing life has been a mom and a sister who are writers, Although my mother is dead, I still hear her voice in my head a lot. She had a sign over her desk that said, 'When in doubt, risk it.' We, along with sister Kate had lots of casual conversations about writing and I met tons of interesting Maine authors through her, so I got good advice from them as well. 27 years as a mental health professional probably helped me more as a writer than anything.

    1. I LOVE that sign. And I totally agree--life experience often makes the richest writer's toolbox.


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