Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Wednesday Discussion: Giving Advice to a Novice Writer

"Practice, practice, practice writing. Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skill. You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong." Jeffrey A. Carver

Has anyone ever given advice to a novice writer? Has anyone ever given advice to a novice writer who's a friend or loved one?That's what I'm doing right now.

About three nights ago, my husband announced that he's going to write a book.  Now, Mr. McKenzie has very little patience, and when he sets his mind to something, by gum, he's going to do it!  I believe his lack of patience and short temper can be attributed to his Scottish ancestry, but perhaps I shouldn't stereotype. 

Hubby can write (he wooed me with poetry), so the talent is there. He's already written the first two chapters and I'm quite impressed because it's a great story!  But Mr. McKenzie has little patience when I try to explain things like point of view, setting the scene at the beginning of a chapter, cause and effect, etc.  He's eager to listen and learn, but as I expound and give examples, he claims, "I got it, you can stop now!" Even when I suggested he  read a chapter from one of my craft books on POV, he said, "No, I understand it!"

Maybe I should explain that the writing process is a slow one--one that requires tremendous amounts of patience.  Writing a novel can take months, or even years to get it perfect/publishable.  He thinks I'm just slow.  But sooner or later he'll realize that the writing itself is slow, and that there's a lot to learn on the way. I suppose I'll have to be patient with his impatience as I guide him along! 

How are you at offering advice to a novice writer? Is it harder for you when the novice is a friend or relative? Tweet me at maria_mckenzie. Thanks for visiting!  


Teri Anne Stanley said...

I'm a bit of a novice myself when it comes to "Trying to actually write a whole novel" but I have been making sentences and stuff for many, many, many years. My 13 year old daughter has started writing, and her English teacher is shocked: "But she barely knows the parts of speech!". My response to that: "Um, listen, kid wants to write, and she really doesn't do much else. She makes up some pretty intense stuff. She also reads a lot. She'll get the mechanics. Don't you DARE tell her she sucks!" And then I go home and try to critique her work without doing the same thing her English teacher is doing to her.

KarenG said...

Maybe Mr. M. is a completely different kind of writer than you. It sounds like you are very organized and planned in your writing while he (being a poet) seems more organic in his efforts. As for giving advice to a novice writer, I think it's the same as giving advice to anyone. Wait til they ask, otherwise it is unwelcome and a waste of breath. But I would give one word of advice. Start a blog!

David said...

I think I am more like your Husband. lol If he's anything like me getting it out onto paper is our first major priorty. I've had an idea swimming around in my head for at least 5 years and it's just now getting set free! Sometimes we all need a little bit of stream of consciousness to inspire us.

For me, it's much easier to see the big picture after it's created. Then tweaking is no problem. However, Some people may be stubbern and not smart enough to know how wrong they are. SO I hope that's not the case. Anyway, I have a little discussion going on on my blog about 'how to name your characters, culture, or settings'. link here:

Would love feedback! Thanks
David, Author - The Story of Michael

Carol Riggs said...

Yes, it's difficult with newbie writers--you can't give them too many "rules" and "helpful" advice, or it smothers them, I think. And like KarenG said, it could be that he's also a diff kind of writer.

My hubby also likes to do poetry, and he has a few chapters on a novel he putters with once in a while. He definitely has no idea how much is involved, but hey, he's enjoying himself, and I don't like to mess with that. He has, however, asked my opinion on occasion, and then that's my opportunity to explain a few things. Even so, I concentrate on the bigger issues rather than nitpickier ones so he doesn't feel overwhelmed, or that I'm minimizing his efforts. We all have to start out somewhere (the beginning!).

Norma Beishir said...

I suffer from a total lack of patience myself, so I'm not the best person to give advice--especially when the newbie in question won't listen.

Donea Lee said...

I think it's great that he's tackling his story head on! I'm sure he'll come around to your advice eventually ~ :) Luckily, my sister seems to enjoy my advice about writing. Not that I'm an expert by any terms, but we enjoy spurring eachother on!

Anonymous said...

Now this is something that I can relate to!
When I first started writing I didn't want anyone reading what I wrote because I was afraid of what they'd think of it(still am in some cases). But over time I got more comfortable with it and I get frustrated whenever I write something and I get little to no feedback whereas other writers may get 100+ comments and yet with some of them their stories don't make any sense.

I was in the same scenario as the one in this blog post about a year or so ago when I tried to help a novice writer. I got frustrated because I felt like I was talking to brickwall but things have gotten better since then and I hope they continue to do so.

Nas Dean said...


Not so far. I haven't advised a felow writer and I wouldn't know what to say!

The Happy Whisk said...

I tell newbs to just get the story down. Forget the rules, the techniques and all that garbage. Just get the story down and by gosh, have a fun time of it. The rest will come.

Old Kitty said...

Good luck to Mr M!! He's got a great mentor in you!!!

I can't really give advice as I'm a novice myself but I'm more than willing to offer opinions though! :-) Take care

Maria McKenzie said...

@Teri: Keep encouraging your daughter! She's lucky to have a mom like you:).

@Karen: I'm hardly organized, but maybe just a little more than he is when it comes to writing--at least now. I have a feeling that if he seriously pursues this, he'll be one of those writers that creates a spreadsheet when plotting!

@David: Yup! Getting it on paper is his first priority! I think he'll get it all down like you, then tweak later:).

@Carol: I'll try not to be so nitpicky and help him concentrate on the big picture instead:).

@Norma: Hubby will listen, but only for a few seconds!

@Donea Lee: I hardly consider myself an expert, but I'm trying to spare him all the mistakes I've made in the past. He's actually picked up a lot from feedback I've read from some of my rejections.

@Rudy-beagle: I think things can only get better! In my case, I think my husband will become more patient and maybe be willing to listen just a tad more:).

@Nas: Sooner or later, someone will ask you for advice;).

@Happy Whisk: That's great advice! I'm going to try to be more hands off and just let him have fun!

@Old Kitty: Thanks for your kind words! As I told Donea Lee, I'm no expert, but I've learned from a lot of mistakes! Just want to spare him those goof ups:)!

The Happy Whisk said...

By gosh, there's nothing like that first draft where it all just hangs out.

Maria McKenzie said...

So true!

William Kendall said...

I've given it the occasional shot at advice... and on one occasion when I tried to be helpful, the individual in question threw a temper tantrum.