Care and Feeding of a New Writer?

So, one thing I see a lot of on the WattPad forums are brand new writers comparing themselves to big name authors. "I can have a ten word chapter because Stephen King writes ten word chapters!", for example. I just want to shake them by their scrawny little necks and say "YOU'RE NOT STEPHEN KING!" Of course, that has a tendency to get you labeled as the forum Scrooge because they want to be encouraged, not told they can't/aren't ready to do something. Same thing with when they share their ideas, and I want to point out how that sounds exactly like 90% of the young adult fantasy books on the market. That usually gets you the "the idea doesn't matter, it's all about the author's voice" lecture. Where do you think the line gets drawn? Obviously these new budding writers need encouragement, but I've always figured it's better to encourage them to start small, and work their way up to bigger things. Baby steps, you know? They're not going to write a world as detailed and nuanced as Middle Earth if you only ever wrote anything when your teachers forced you to. And I'm sorry, but I've never understood the point writing a story that's been told a thousand times before. We all have an imagination, why not come up with out own ideas? But at the same time, is it really better to tell them to limit themselves than to tell them to go buck wild and find out what they're capable of? What's your take on it?

I'm a new writer. I had to look up what Wattpad was when you mentioned it.

I suppose my take on it, as a new writer but long-time eater of fiction, is that each story must stand on it's own merits. If it's a rip-off, people won't like it unless it's a particularly well done rip-off. Creators will always think that their creation is special, especially since the Internet has a tendency to let you surround yourself only with people who agree with you.

If you don't think it's a good story, give it a low rating. If they ask, give your reasoning. If they counter with some esoteric argument that boils down to "You just don't GET it" don't engage. There are plenty of great stories out there, written by wonderful people.

Not mine, though. Mine's exactly like 90% of young adult fantasy, but that doesn't matter because it's about the author's voice. You just don't get it.

As for myself, I didn't do very much writing as a young writer. I got out many of my bad ideas as a writer while doing tabletop roleplaying games. By the time I got around to writing stories instead of playing them out, I already had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't (at least in some areas). I was much more oriented toward worrying about tone, characters, and plot than I was about writing style. My writing style ended up being simple and serviceable as opposed to clever.

My attitude toward less experienced writers basically amounts to:

1. You get better at the stuff you try (for example, RPG's helped me practice everything but my writing).

2. Doing something and failing often drives home the point better than a lecture.

3. If people have sensible questions, I'll answer.

4. Imitation is one way to learn.

5. It's seldom worth the bother of telling people not to do something.

And speaking of bad ideas, here's a slightly relevant story: I have a long term interest in music. Back when I was in college and experimenting with composing, I wrote a song where the vocals were essentially a chant that used at most four different notes. Meanwhile, the chords in the background changed regularly, but I chose them so that every note in the vocals would always be dissonant with the chord behind it.

Oh... And the song? It was sung from the perspective of the ecosystem of bacteria growing on Elvis Presley's rotting corpse.

In retrospect, I feel safe in saying this was a conglomeration of terrible ideas. Despite that, I learned from writing it, and that's worth something.

This is why I stay far away from Wattpad. The community there isn't the place for me. It might be large but the other writers there would drive me insane because of how much they want praise and if you dare give an honest critique your practically a troll hurting their creative freedom.

In general, I usual tailor my writing advice based on the writer who is asking the question. I don't have a default answer for everyone. I've told writers to start small and not every novel needs to be in a series. Write something stand alone and simple first. For some, I will tell them that they should start with short-stories especially if they've trouble completing what they've written. If they show they are competent and have a more specific issue, I will address that issue unless they are a little misguided in what they think is the problem. Then again, I'm not dealing with Wattpad writers. Generally these people want to improve and aren't delusional with a bunch of misguided thoughts about writing. I usually don't shoot down their ideas down or validate them because rather them get on with the execution regardless of what I think. As a writer shouldn't start or feeling as if they need permission to write something and learn that ideas are meaningless, and it's hard to critique an idea. The only time I comment on someone idea is if it's painfully flawed and I try to get them to at least considered fixing the flaw. I don't usually tell them, "Well this idea had been done to death, think about writing something else." I rather them write their story but I want them to consider and know that they way they are approaching it isn't the best way to go about it the majority of them have enough grace to consider your advice without trying to defend themselves or have a white-knight come in trying to defend them.

A thing I've noticed when discussing writing is that people are very absolute when it comes to "writing rules".

In general, there are a lot of guidelines or rules of thumb in writing that work in about 80-90% of cases. The problem is that people either go really extreme and take the guideline as a 100% iron-clad rule, or go in the opposite direction and say that the rule is invalid.

When I discuss rules like these, I tend to give really detailed explanations about why and how the rule is applied, and examples of exception cases.

Still, at the end of the day, people are going to take advice and criticism as they will. It's not your job to turn them into amazing writers if they don't want to hear it.

I vote that we instinctively hate the other place, preferably for no reason.

Eh, on the one hand, I think we all are basically rehashing the same stories over and over again, at their most basic. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the creativity we use to keep them from being the exact same story is a little more than can be attributed to simple "author's voice". I've sometimes wondered what it would be like for some of us to all take the same basic premise, possibly with a vague outline of things that have to happen in a story, and watch us all come up with something different. It may be the same story, but it wouldn't really be the same story. Starting with the same story and taking it in two entirely different ways also helps (which I kinda need to say after some of the stuff I've done, like in Icy What You Did There 1).

As for doing what other writers do...just because you could theoretically do it doesn't mean you should do it. Stephen King was on an awful lot of drugs, and not all of his stuff is even that scary. Or good. Or relevant. Lots of extraneous stuff about the Sharp Cereal Professor in Cujo, for instance, along with a hint of supernatural connection that's never fully used enough to justify its inclusion. It's just a story about people who get harassed by a rabid dog.

And he only wrote so much about main characters who were writers in Maine because he was a writer in Maine. It'd probably be a bit conceited for most of us (well, me at any rate) to start making our main characters writers. I suppose I'm not allowed to comment on him including himself as a character in the Dark Tower series.

At this point, I'm out of things to say that are relevant, except to point out that House of Leaves is a wonderful exception to so much of writing. It doesn't take those liberties because it can. It does them as part of the mood and story itself. And that's the real thing people should use to determine if they need to do a ten word chapter.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go work on a short story where an AI takes over and sends a relentless machine back in time to pursue a waitress whose bad day has just gotten worse. I like where my mind is going with this one...

I bet they haven't even read King's 'On Writing'...

I don't give people negative or constructive feedback unless they ask for it. Then I am honest as I feel I need to be. If someone doesn't ask for it, I don't offer my opinion unless it's positive.

This is my dao of not being an asshole online.

But Blaise, NOBODY wants negative feedback. They might ask for constructive criticism, but they'll never tell you they want negative feedback. Especially on a website full of new, hotheaded young writers like WattPad. Pretty much, the only way to give them negative feedback is to force feed it to them, otherwise they'll keep writing crappy stories with nothing but "OMG THIS IS SO NOT TEH SUXXORZ" to guide them.

I fully admit, one huge reason (excuse) that 99.999% of my ideas never get written is that so much it in my head sounds like seen-it-a-thousand-times paint-by-numbers schlock. There's nothing new under the sun and true creativity is often just rehashing tired concepts in a new way. So, it's hard to fault new, and even veteran, writers for coming up with stuff we've all seen before. New writers might just not be aware of how much it's been done before. I've had several projects belly up once I realized that the premise or plot I was going for had been done to death already.

There's nothing wrong new starry-eyed writers discussing their ambitions. But ambition does need to be tempered with a little wisdom and a little humility. It's difficult for creatives to keep the engine running, I know, and you don't want to just shut it off outright, but I think if they want to really grow, they need to learn they aren't the hot shit they wish they could be. If they can't bear facing that idea when they're just starting out, well, nothing you can really do about it, but let creative karma smack them in the face down the road. Chances are, a lot of them will just get bored and frustrated and wash out when life's other priorities and distractions overtake their willingness to work at their craft.

@TheAdamBo - there you'd be wrong. There are some people who know they have a way to go and they crave constructive criticism.

I think you are painting with a really broad brush and I'm trying to temper my response.

I hosted a brutal review thread on RRL for a short time and had to stop hosting it because there are too many writers who wanted reviews. It was significantly eating into my writing time.

I think it's a little bit of column A, little bit of column B. There are a huge number of authors who legitimately want to get better and, for them, constructive criticism is key. But there are WAY more that want you to tell them that they're already great. They'll submit stories, asking for honest reviews, but secretly hoping you'll say that their work is flawless as is.

Source: was one of those writers.

I asked a professional friend to edit one of my stories and she gave it back looking like the first ten minutes of a CSI episode. But not every writer is going to be able to swallow that first burst of ego. I don't use Wattpad, but from reading this thread, it seems like most of the writers there wouldn't.

I tend not to accept "You're not x" (Stephen King, Douglass Adams, George RR Martin, whoever) as a legitimate response to an author talking about trying something. When I see it used, "You're not x" generally has a specific subtext:

1. x is an established writer and has earned the right to take risks

2. x is a brilliant writer and can get away with doing weird things

3. x is the person who invented/perfected [thing] and is therefore the only one who can get away with it because it's part of x's style, if you do it you're just copying x

Going backwards:

3. There is no such thing as a single author owning a literary device/trick/voice. Ever. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, put that person on a list and never take writing advice from them ever again. If someone claims an author invented a literary device/trick/voice, chances are with a little research you'll find the author was ACTUALLY inspired by the device/trick/voice some other author used.

2. I have two objections to this one. First, brilliant writers don't start playing with stuff and trying things and deviating from expectations AFTER they get good. Well, some do I guess, but there are plenty who started pushing their limits and trying things and playing with things at the same time as they were learning and getting better. The idea that you have to master the rules before you break them is, um... how blue are we working here? Let's just say "it's not true" and leave it at that.

Second, most people who use this version have not read your work beforehand. Screw 'em.

1. You know who wasn't Stephen King, once upon a time? Stephen King. Once upon a time he was a nobody who was trying to get published like everybody else, and he had to deal with people telling him "Well you're not HP Lovecraft." The point is, by the time people started saying "Yeah, that Stephen King guy, he's pretty good" he'd already settled on most of his style.

Not being x isn't a good enough reason to not try something. The flip side is, the fact that x did it doesn't guarantee you'll get away with it, too. Doing a thing and making it work has nothing to do with whether someone else did it, or if most people don't. It has to do with whether or not you, through your writing, are able to get the reader to buy in. Every choice is a risk, and the risk of failure is... failure.

If the reader doesn't sign on, you lose the reader. Mission not accomplished. You do not get the prize.

Each writer has to realize the risks they take are only partially connected to what other writers do or don't do. If Stephen King does something it's proof that it CAN work, but not proof that it'll work for you. If Stephen King tells you NOT to do something, it's proof that he doesn't like it, and because he doesn't like it there's a fair chance that people who admire him will be inclined to think it can't work. Which doesn't mean you can't win them over (you can!) but it's more difficult.

Fun fact: Curveball is written in present tense and presented as a "prose comic." The fact that I write in present tense turns some people off. The fact that I'm presenting these stories as if they were comic books turns some people off. Both are risks (though the present tense one isn't as big a risk as it used to be) and they add to the overall level of risk that someone will come by and not like the serial.

But... and this is important... THEY AREN'T THE REASONS PEOPLE WON'T LIKE IT.

Yes, there are a few people who will reject a story out of hand because it's written in present tense, but people rarely dislike something for one reason alone. People who don't like Curveball as a story dislike it NOT because it's written in present tense, NOT because of the format, NOT because of the publication schedule -- they dislike it for a variety of reasons, and each little failed risk adds up. A reader will usually focus on one or two things when they talk about why they dislike something, but nine times out of ten it's a lot of little things they don't dig and it all comes to a head.

All I want for young writers to understand is that trying something "nonstandard" is fine as long as they understand that risks have potential consequences as well as payoffs, and at the end of the day you have to be prepared to take it on the chin if the world decides they hate your baby. Or worse, if they decide they meh your baby. In some ways it's as hard to deal with ambivalence as it is to deal with outright hatred.

This is why, for the most part, I tend not to belong to writer's groups or communities, with the exceptions being here (where I generally lurk and don't post) and the Pen and Cape Society, which is not really a group where writers hang out and talk about writing. Other than our podcast, which I still need to EDIT

<there is a five minute lapse in posting while I beat my head against my desk>

wHEre was I thE World is sPinNing ok I'm better now

my point is that the problem with getting advice from other writers is that we all have our Definite Opinions Of Doing Good and we want our opinions to be the right ones so we roll up our sleeves and start swinging wildly at anyone who shows signs of doing things differently and

... what? No? Just me?

Hm. Well, that's another reason I don't post much.

Just accept that when you're taking a risk you're actually risking something, dammit! OK, I'm going to drink more coffee.

Ubersoft, that's a great answer. You put a lot of thought into it.

Something caught my eye. I'd heard about Curveball being a prose comic the other day, and I figured that was exciting and different, so I swung passed your site.

Then I found out it was present tense, so I didn't stick around it. I noticed you mentioned that happens. I was just wondering if you had any idea how often that happens?

And, sorry for not sticking around, but I absolutely can't read present tense stories.

I don't know how often it happens, because I don't get much feedback (comments per issue have picked up, but Curveball's audience is comparatively small to, uh, just about everything, so there's not a lot of people talking/arguing about it). It does happen, though I think it's more often the case that someone decides they don't like present tense, but sticks with the story a while, then runs into something else that bugs them and THEN they decide "nope, sorry, can't deal" and it was a situation where if it was just one or the other they'd be OK but both was a dealbreaker. The Curveball Year One Omnibus only lasted sixteen minutes at ImmerseOrDie because the reviewer a) disliked First Person, b) disliked the sudden POV change in Issue One, Part One, and c) disliked the unrealistic portrayal of a guy not noticing a wall blowing up behind him in Part Two. That was strike three, and I was out.

Which underscores my point about risk-taking and how it's actually... risky. :D