Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Resources for Writers

Writing Advice Can Often Be Toxic to Writers . . .

I remember when “personal” computers were beginning to appear—when every kid on the block started to become an “expert”—when you could easily trash your shiny, new computer by listening to the wrong people… 

I also remember when publishing books became easier for an individual—when every creative-type started to become a book-guru—when you could easily ruin your tender, longing hopes by listening to the wrong people

Computers have become a bit more robust.

Writing gurus are breeding like rabbits.

I’ve written 57 previous posts that all have something to do with writing advice (if you take that link, you’ll also find this post since I used the same tags…).

Many of those posts caution against certain types of writing advice—some offer what I consider good advice.

I’ll give a few examples of the kind of advice you might want to avoid; then, share a couple links that could, in my opinion, help

There are many ways writing advice can be sincerely given yet still be potentially harmful.

The most common type to avoid (though, I’ve read many and still haven’t been corrupted) are the ones that have a number in the title (apparently, folks who don’t like to work hard to learn something are quite attracted to numbered lists and way too many bloggers share lists in hopes of generating more traffic… [I’ve committed this “sin” myself a few times]).

Here are three examples:

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers

Kerouac’s 30 Rules for Writing

Improving Your Fiction: 246 Rules from 28 Modern Writers

If you actually read those articles, you may find many tips ( or, “rules” ) that indeed help you in your writing; however

Learning to write by learning lists of “rules” can easily lead to stilted, contrived, or unnatural writing.

You can make a list of things to buy at the grocery store and make the effort to go there and get all the ingredients; but, they need to be combined properly—you must have a “grand plan” for your cooking to produce a great meal

It’s laughingly ironic to me that my all-time favorite writer of novels, C. J. Cherryh, actually produced a list called Writerisms and other Sins.

Yet, the final tip in that list was NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF.

Perhaps the best advice I could give to writers is, if you feel you must read lists of tips, please do yourself a huge favor and devour a story from an accomplished writer for every single tip you ingest

And, if you just have to read a whole book of writing advice (and, you intend to write a novel), check out this article—Ever Wondered How An Author Actually Writes A Novel?

One last bit of writing advice:

Go read this articleHow To Read Like A Writer.
Read Some Strange Fantasies
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So You Want To Be A Successful Writer… ~ Oh, My…

Last year I wrote the article Bad Advice for Writers = Most Advice for Writers.

If you want to be a successful writer you should go read that article.

It begins by telling you that most books sell less than 500 copies.

Then, it explores a range of motivations for being a writer that don’t include making a lot of money.

Still, there’s more opportunity these days to make money as a writer—it just takes an incredible amount of work and a nice big helping of luck…

And, I should explain what “luck” actually stands for—Laboring Under Correct Knowledge…

Including this post, I now have 48 articles tagged “Writing Advice” (check out the Top Tags widget further down the left side-bar for more topics…).

Another article in this blog that aspiring writers might seriously consider reading is Selling Books Is Hard. ~ So, Why Do Writers Keep Trying?

In that post, I quote Cory Doctorow saying:

“Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task that will absorb as much attention as you give it. Every book and every author brings a different proposition to the negotiation with readers, but there’s one thing they all have in common: unless someone takes charge of doing something, something clever and active and good and slightly improbable, no one will care about the book or the person who wrote it.” 

So, with that all said, here’s an article meant for bloggers but certainly just as valid for those who write books—101 Writing Resources That’ll Take You from Stuck to Unstoppable—though I can’t vouch for the helpfulness of every link that post offers…

Here are the topic headings in that article:

Handle Writer’s Block Before It Handles You
Boost Your Confidence, Mindset, and Motivation
Set Goals, Prioritize Your Time, and Create a Routine You Can Live With
Conquer Inertia and Stay Productive
Anticipate Stuckness and Fuel Up on Inspiration
Crush Distractions and Maintain Focus
Build the Right Relationships and Improve Your Communication
Get Extra Help with Tools, Services and Support
Feed Your Mind with Education and Community Resources
Bonus: Personal Growth + Writing = Awesome

And, my personal Bonus for the readers of this blog who want to be successful writers is my article back in June—The Successful Writer—that quotes heavily from an incredibly successful writer—Joe Konrath.
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“Writerisms and other Sins”

Dare I say it—there’s too much crappy advice for writers on the Web.

Writerisms and other Sins

Image Courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski ~

Far too much of it aims to teach the rules of genre-writing rather than the ways to write clearly.

If a writer is trapped in someone else’s mold, their true creativity will be strangled.

My all-time favorite fiction writer (after my Best Friend) is C. J. Cherryh; and, I’m going to share some of her writing advice.

She’s written more than 60 books since the mid-1970s and won multiple awards.

One of the most interesting things about her is that even her most adoring fans say she’s challenging to read…

Yet, it’s not because she’s lost in florid prose or chained to a genre-muse.

She does write in certain “genres” but she creatively bends them to her writing-will—never a tortured trope, never a borrowed plot, never a bunch of hackneyed characters…

She doesn’t give advice on what to write, how to write for certain readers, or how to churn out a bestseller.

She just gives rock-solid information about the most common “sins” against clear writing.

You can download Writerisms and other Sins; or, read it here:


Writerisms and other Sins:

A Writer’s shortcut to stronger writing.

by C.J. Cherryh

(c) 1995 by C.J. Cherryh

Copy and pass ‘Writerisms and other Sins’ around to your heart’s content, but always post my copyright notice at the top, correctly, thank you, as both a courtesy and a legal necessity to protect any writer.

Writerisms: overused and misused language. In more direct words: find ’em, root ’em out, and look at your prose without the underbrush. You may be surprised by how much better it looks.

1) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with ‘by’ or with an actor implied but not stated. [The window was broken by a stray ball. The window got broke. The window was broken that afternoon.] Such structures are passives. In general, limit passive verb use to one or two per book. The word ‘by’ followed by a person is an easy flag for passives. [Active is the alternative to passive [let’s not talk about Sanskrit and Middle Voice here!] The sentence about the window would read: A stray ball broke the window.] Common reason for using a passive? To avoid saying who or what did it. Don’t trust people who use a lot of passives. Alternative reason: to focus attention on the window rather than the ball, the result rather than the action. There’s artistic reason for passives, but they’re baroque, convolute, and rob the sentence of factual information. Limit your use of them…ration them!]

2) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with an adjective. ‘He was sad as he walked about the apartment.’> ‘He moped about the apartment.’ A single colorful verb is stronger than any was + adjective; but don’t slide to the polar opposite and overuse colorful verbs. There are writers that vastly overuse the ‘be’ verb; if you are one, fix it. If you aren’t one—don’t, because *over*fixing it will commit the next error.

3) florid verbs. ‘The car grumbled its way to the curb’ is on the verge of being so colorful it’s distracting. {Florid fr. Lat. floreo, to flower.}

If a manuscript looks as if it’s sprouted leaves and branches, if every verb is ‘unusual’, if the vocabulary is more interesting than the story…fix it by going to more ordinary verbs. There are vocabulary-addicts who will praise your prose for its usage of uncommon verbs but there won’t be many readers who can admire your verbs as verbs and simultaneously follow your story, especially if your story has intellectual content. The car is probably not a main actor and not one you necessarily need to make into a character. If its action should be more ordinary and transparent, don’t use an odd expression. This is prose, not epic verse.

This statement also goes for unusual descriptions and odd adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.” The sun bloomed on the verge of the planetary surface’ is pretty awful: ‘dawned’ gets the job done.

4) odd connectives. Some writers overuse ‘as’ and ‘then’ in an attempt to avoid ‘and’ or ‘but’, which themselves can become a tic. But ‘as’ is only for truly simultaneous action. The common deck of conjunctions available is:

when (temporal)

if (conditional)

since (ambiguous between temporal and causal)

although (concessive)

because (causal)

and (connective)

but (contrasting)

as (contemporaneous action *or* sub for ‘because’) while (roughly equal to ‘as’)

These are the ones I can think of. If you use some too much and others practically never, be more even-handed. Then, BTW, is originally more of an adverb than a proper conjunction, although it seems to be drifting toward use as a conjunction. However is really a peculiar conjunction, demanding in most finicky usage to be placed *after* the subject of the clause.

Don’t forget the correlatives, either…or, neither…nor, and ‘not only…but also.’

And ‘so that’, ‘in order that’, and the far shorter and occasionally merciful infinitive: ‘to..{verb}something.’

5) Descriptive writerisms. Things that have become ‘conventions of prose’ that personally stop me cold in text.

‘framed by’ followed by hair, tresses, curls, or most anything cute.

“swelling bosom’

‘heart-shaped face’

‘set off by’: see ‘framed by’

‘revealed’ or ‘revealed by’: see ‘framed by’. Too precious for words when followed by a fashion statement.

mirrors….avoid mirrors, as a basic rule of your life. You get to use them once during your writing career. Save them for more experience. But it doesn’t count if they don’t reflect…by which I mean see the list above. If you haven’t read enough unpublished fiction to have met the infamous mirror scenes in which Our Hero admires his steely blue eyes and manly chin, you can scarcely imagine how bad they can get.

limpid pools and farm ponds: I don’t care what it is, if it reflects your hero and occasions a description of his manly dimple, it’s a mirror.

As a general rule…your viewpoint characters should have less, rather than more, description than anyone else: a reader of different skin or hair color ought to be able to sink into this persona without being continually jolted by contrary information.

Stick to what your observer can observe. One’s own blushes can be felt, but not seen, unless one is facing….a mirror. See above.

‘as he turned, then stepped aside from the descending blow…’ First of all, it takes longer to read than to happen: pacing fault. Second, the ‘then’ places action #2 sequentially after #1, which makes the whole evasion sequence a 1-2 which won’t work. This guy is dead or the opponent was telegraphing his moves in a panel-by-panel comic book style which won’t do for regular prose. Clunky. Slow. Fatally slow.

‘Again’ or worse ‘once again.’ Established writers don’t tend to overuse this one: it seems like a neo fault, possibly a mental writerly stammer—lacking a next thing to do, our hero does it ‘again’ or ‘once again’ or ‘even yet.’ Toss ‘still’ and ‘yet’ onto the pile and use them sparingly.

6) Dead verbs. Colorless verbs.




run, ran

go, went, gone

leave, left

have, had

get, got

You can add your own often used colorless verbs: these are verbs that convey an action but don’t add any other information. A verb you’ve had to modify (change) with an adverb is likely inadequate to the job you assigned it to do.

Colorless: verb with inadequate adverb: ‘He walked slowly across the room.’ More informative verb with no adverb.> ‘He trudged across the room’, ‘He paced across the room’, ‘He stalked across the room,’ each one a different meaning, different situation. But please see problem 3, above, and don’t go overboard.

7) Themely English

With apologies to hard-working English teachers, school English is not fiction English.

Understand that the meticulous English style you labored over in school, including the use of complete sentences and the structure of classic theme-sentence paragraphs, was directed toward the production of non-fiction reports, resumes, and other non-fiction applications.

The first thing you have to do to write fiction? Suspect all the English style you learned in school and violate rules at need. Many of those rules will turn out to apply; many won’t.

{Be ready to defend your choices. If you are lucky, you will be copyedited. Occasionally the copyeditor will be technically right but fictionally wrong and you will have to tell your editor why you want that particular expression left alone.}

8) Scaffolding and spaghetti. Words the sole function of which is to hold up other words. For application only if you are floundering in too many ‘which’ clauses. Do not carry this or any other advice to extremes.

‘What it was upon close examination was a mass the center of which was suffused with a glow which appeared rubescent to the observers who were amazed and confounded by this untoward manifestation.’ Flowery and overstructured. ‘What they found was a mass, the center of which glowed faintly red. They’d never seen anything like it.’ The second isn’t great lit, but it gets the job done: the first drowns in ‘which’ and ‘who’ clauses.

In other words—be suspicious any time you have to support one needed word (rubescent) with a creaking framework of ‘which’ and ‘what’ and ‘who’. Dump the ‘which-what-who’ and take the single descriptive word. Plant it as an adjective in the main sentence.

9) A short cut to ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ ‘may’ and ‘might.’

Nominative: who

Possessive: whose

Objective: whom

The rule: 1) treat the ‘who-clause’ as a mini-sentence. If you could substitute ‘he’ for the who-whom, it’s a ‘who.’ If you could substitute ‘him’ for the who-whom it’s a ‘whom’.

The trick is where ellipsis has occurred…or where parentheticals have been inserted…and the number of people in important and memorable places who get it wrong. ‘Who…do I see?’ Wrong: I see he? No. I see ‘him’. Whom do I see?

2) Who never changes case to match an antecedent. (word to which it refers)

I blame them who made the unjust law. CORRECT.

It is she whom they blame. CORRECT: The who-clause is WHOM THEY BLAME. > They blame HER=him, =whom.

I am the one WHO is at fault. CORRECT.

I am the one WHOM they blame. CORRECT.

They took him WHOM they blamed. CORRECT—but not because WHOM matches HIM: that doesn’t matter: correct because ‘they’ is the subject of ‘blamed’ and ‘whom’ is the object.

I am he WHOM THEY BLAME. CORRECT. Whom is the ‘object’ of ‘they blame.’ Back to rule one: ‘who’ clauses are completely independent in case from the rest of the sentence. The case of ‘who’ in its clause changes by the internal logic of the clause and by NO influence outside the clause. Repeat to yourself: there is no connection, there is no connection 3 x and you will never mistake for whom the bell tolls.

The examples above probably grate over your nerves. That’s why ‘that’ is gaining in popularity in the vernacular and why a lot of copyeditors will correct you incorrectly on this point. I beginning to believe that nine tenths of the English-speaking universe can’t handle these little clauses.

Use ‘may’ in a present tense or future tense sentence. Use ‘might’ in any past tense sentence. You may also use ‘might’ in a present tense sentence, but you must never, ever, ever use ‘may’ in a past tense sentence. HE SAYS HE MAY GO. HE SAID HE MIGHT GO. HE SAYS HE MIGHT GO (remote possibility). All the previous are correct. HE SAID HE MAY GO is wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter how often you may hear it on the nightly news. It’s my belief there must be a grammar correction software out there that has it wrong, because American English works are suddenly rife with this error. I know for a fact there is one professional copyeditor on the loose that tries to ‘correct’ manuscripts to this incorrect usage. The finesses of this may-might business are considerable. Train yourself to wince when someone violates what’s technically called the ‘sequence of tenses’ rule.

10. -ing.

‘Shouldering his pack and setting forth, he crossed the river…’ No, he didn’t. Not unless his pack was in the river. Implies simultaneity. The participles are just like any other verbal form. They aren’t a substitute legal everywhere, or a quick fix for a complex sequence of motions. Write them on the fly if you like, but once imbedded in text they’re hard to search out when you want to get rid of their repetitive cadence, because -ing is part of so many fully constructed verbs {am going, etc.}


A substitute for thinking of the right word. ‘Darkness’, ‘unhappiness’, and such come of tacking -ness (or occasionally – ion) onto words. There’s often a better answer. Use it as needed.

As a general rule, use a major or stand-out vocabulary word only once a paragraph, maybe twice a page, and if truly outre, only once per book. Parallels are clear and proper exceptions to this, and don’t vary your word choice to the point of silliness: see error 3.



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Just A Bit of Sane Writing Advice . . .

Some folks have absolutely no problem writing down their thoughts and feelings.

Some never have to struggle to organize their writing into flowing prose.

Most people, though, need a strong-minded Muse to unlock their creativity and encourage them as they perfect their expressiveness.

This post is the 42nd I’ve written about Writing Advice.

And, the post, The Very Best Way To Learn To Be A Writer?, helps you tap into all the writing advice on this blog.

Many of my posts have cautioned folks about the flood of data streaming on the ‘Net that’s actually poisonous and will absolutely block their efforts

But the specific challenge for this post is how to stick with one’s writing—staying fluent—resisting the urge to quit.

Andrew DeYoung, writer, editor, and multimedia project manager, has written a post called, 8 Steps to Start a Writing Habit That Sticks, that’s quite sane

He begins by saying:

“‘I wish I could find the time to write more.’

“I hear this all the time. Everyone I meet wishes they could write more, it seems: some would like to write a novel, while others just want to blog more consistently or keep a personal journal. But between jobs, friends, family, kids, and the constant distractions of everyday life, they just can’t find the time.”

He then goes on to reveal the steps he discovered that help him stick with it (I’ll only list the bare steps and encourage you to take the link to the post and read his sane approach):

1. Make writing a priority.

2. Really make writing a priority!

3. Figure out what motivates you to write.

4. Forget everything you’ve heard about what it really takes to be a writer.

5. Set a goal—but start small.

6. Think about writing throughout the day.

7. Build in feedback loops.

8. Take a break.

There are at least three steps there that the “Writing Advice Experts” would cringe at; yet, I’m a writer and find everything he says is practical and true
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Should Writers Blog? ~ If They Do, What Are The “Rules” . . .

There are many reasons for writers to blog

One was explored in my previous post, Blogging ~ Can It Really Fulfill The Writer’s Dictum: “Write Every Day!”?

As I pointed out in that post, the maverick in me had to punctuate that tile the way I did

As far as “rules” for writers, you’ll see why I had to put that word in quotes if you read these two posts:

Rules for Writers Are Slippery and Shifty . . .

More On The “Rules” of Writing . . .

I’m going to leave the many other reasons for writers to blog to readers who are brave enough to share what they know in the Comments—I love challenging folks to comment—once they learn it doesn’t hurt, they actually like it :-)

Thanks to Kristi Hines from and to her guest poster, Steve Aedy, I can share some “rules” for writers-in-general from some relatively well-known other writers.

The article Writing Tips of Famous Authors you can use now for Blogging has various “rules” for writers; then, Steve translates them into rules for bloggers.

I’m only going to put the “rules” from other writers here because so many writers don’t seem to have the time to blog

If you are or want to be a blogging writer, just take that article’s link to read the bloggy stuff :-)

Some “Rules”:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading…thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.” – Elmore Leonard

“Don’t wish ill on your colleagues.” – Richard Ford

“Try to be accurate about stuff.” – Anne Enright

“Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.” – Neil Gaiman

“Hold the reader’s attention. This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.” – Margaret Atwood

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this; you choose it, so don’t whine.” – Margaret Atwood

“Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.” – PD James

“Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct.” – Geoff Dyer

“Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.” – Neil Gaiman

“Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.” – PD James

“Don’t write in public places.” – Geoff Dyer

“Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards, it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.” – Ester Freud

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” – Zadie Smith

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” – Zadie Smith


Even though I’m a writer and I blog 5 days a week, I don’t “write” every day—unless you count the larger Writing Process in my head as “writing”—which I do count—and, there are a few more of those “rules” that I can’t abide :-)

Sure hope some of you are brave enough to comment………
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