Who doesn’t love writing advice? Well, me, actually. I can’t remember the last time I, or really anyone I know, took advice. (I know one person who takes advice and he only takes it from like two people anyway.)
That’s one of many reasons that it takes a long time to become a good writer. Being a writer is, I think, more a question of temperament than anything. Artists in general are people who can’t really be told what to do. So then good advice is just annoying because if you want to follow it, you have to forget having read it and pretend you came up with it yourself.
Except recently a horror writer asked me if I had any tips! It was super flattering. Here’s what I told him, and we agreed to share it here in case it helps anyone else 🙂
So: I have a group of four writer friends and I send them my work for feedback. (Any more people than that and it gets confusing, at least for me.) I found my trusted people through Goodreads—LitReactor is a good source also, I think, though I haven’t used it myself. You might have to try a few different groups/options before you find “your people.” Might surprise you from reading my fiction, but I can’t stand snarkiness/meanness/ridicule—it’s so unhelpful/unnecessary when it comes to feedback—I respond better to gentle encouragement and refuse to accept anything else, haha. As for what feedback is useful, technical stuff like “There are too many passive sentences” or “The story doesn’t seem to begin until the third paragraph” is great. Nothing to be done about, “I object to the story you’re telling”, so, uh, just ignore it, maybe?
As for what to read: read the top litmags in/outside of your genres of choice and find the authors whose work you like. You probably already know them, but for horror, mags like Nightmare, Black Static, TheDARK and Unnerving Magazine are good places to start. Read stories once for enjoyment and read a second/third time to study. You don’t have to like everything you read, and if you’re anything like me, you probably won’t. But once you’ve found authors you do like, see if they have short story collections or other works to read. Using this method, I found Gwendolyn Kiste’s “And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe”, Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” and Rich Larson’s “Tomorrow Factory.” (I’ve since been published alongside Gwendolyn Kiste and also Rich Larson—which I don’t think is a coincidence.) All these authors use mostly conventional story structures—beginning, middle, end—mostly short sentences with simple vocabulary, and deliver compelling original stories with new and complex ideas. I would bet that this is why they get published so often. (Not concerned with showing off their vocabulary or needless experimentalism—both things I used to love doing!)
You might like to know about my podcast, “Losing the Plot“, on which I interview authors and other creatives. It’s hosted by Aphotic Realm, who also have a magazine and enjoy publishing new authors—if you submit, they may even give you kind feedback also. Might be a great place to start! (Duotrope, The Horror Tree and Submission Grinder also useful sources of horror markets.) You could even start your own horror writer interview podcast—all you need is Skype and a mic. Authors are lovely people and almost all of them like to chat. Of all the many authors I’ve asked, only one or two said no—but even they responded!
All I do know is that there are no iron-clad rules when it comes to writing or advice that you “must follow.” (Well, that and that rejection really isn’t personal, unless 100+ editors a year really do want me to suffer, haha!)
Anyway, there are nothing but really good suggestions. I hope you find some of mine helpful. They’re all things I’ve done and continue to do, because I find, as all my favourite authors do, that writing is a lifestyle/continuous practice. It’s nice to think of it this way because, whether you get published tomorrow or in a decade, you’d still be doing the same thing anyway. Reading and writing, reading and writing.
Hope this is helpful to whoever read it! Have you picked up any tips you wanna tell me? Let me know! Cheers and best of luck with writing and all your endeavours 🙂