There seems to be an abundance of writing advice on twitter today, for which I am thankful. To return the favor, I wanted to offer the best writing advice I give my students, but this has proven impossible to do in 140 characters. So I will write a brief blog and offer a link on twitter.
My advice to writers of both fiction and non-fiction is always this:
LET IT SUCK.
Writing that sucks is infinitely easier to improve that a blank screen or empty page. Simple as that.
If you allow yourself to just write not worry about its value, most of the writing will include your usual level of quality. And some of it will suck. The sucky parts are easy to fix. Just ask yourself why the sucky part sucks (without having a meltdown) and you will see that the sentence should actually say this, or the character would never do that, or there is a repetitious phrase, or it drags on too long and should be two sentences, etc. See? None of these things are insurmountable, and most often your mind addresses/corrects the issue quickly. Boom. Done. Move on to the next area of suck, and address that. Each fix makes the work suck less. And you, my friend are being productive.
How do you know when it is great? When you have been through it twice and know deep inside that now you are just fussing. This is when you are ready for the big test: reading it out loud.
Don’t scoff, Shakespeare, this is a necessary step.
Reading your work out loud, in a voice and at a pace you would use when reading publicly for money, will reveal all the hidden flaws your eyes and ego hid from you. Don’t meltdown over this either, just mark it, and continue with your “public reading”. I print out my copy to do this step; it is easier to mark and move on than to start rewriting onscreen in the middle of a “public read”. I just make a mark by the word, no notes, and go back afterward and do whatever is needed.
And yes, reading it again after all the fixes to make sure your writing is as nearly perfect as you can make it is adviseable.
So, remember, let it suck, then make it suck less, and suck less, and suck less, until it is, much to your shock and delight, great.
Keep writing, brothers and sisters.