News | 2010 | The Best Writing Advice You've Ever Received

At the end of November, I was at UBC for the second part of their Creative Writing Symposia, where we discussed pedagogical approaches with the writers TAing creative writing classes as well as leading New Shoots groups with the Vancouver School Board. I've had a lot of fun with these writers (we met at the end of October, too), and I think we've been sharing some cool stuff about learner-centred teaching to both help their students and to make their own teaching just a little bit easier. One thing we did last time which I really got a lot out of was sharing the best writing advice we've ever received with each other. Some of the advice I've heard before, some I hadn't, and I'll share it all with you now as best as I can remember.

  • The first draft of anything is shit. Yeah, this one was from me--I like to share this relaxing, editing-promoting pearl from Hemingway whenever I can.
  • Anything we write is shit. Which, I thought, was an interesting extension of the advice I shared.
  • Editing is a conversation.
  • Why not the best? This one was taken from Jimmy Carter, who, when he was graduating from the Naval Academy, was asked if he always did his best. Carter admitted that he hadn't, and was subsequently asked, "why not?" Apparently, the question really resonated with Carter (and with the writer who shared this advice).
  • A writer writes.
  • Raise the stakes.
  • Learning how to edit. Not necessarily advice, per se, but definitely a pivotal moment in this writer's development (mine, too).
  • Writers work out of deep need.
  • If you don't know how to write, write the problem. At least keep your pen moving or your keys clicking--writer's block can be conquered.
  • It's not the last decision you're ever going to make. So chill and just write.
  • We use language to knock on the door of what we're trying to write about. Words are the imperfect tools we use, not our ultimate subjects.
  • And finally, Anton Chekhov's six principles that make for a good story: 1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality: flee the stereotype; and 6. compassion.

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