There are no shortage of inspiring quotes and lists of advice from great writers. The internet is full of them. Go ahead. Google “writing advice.” See? There’s no end to it.
But the two best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever had came from unexpected places: an agent who is not longer an agent and a writer whose name I can’t remember.
So here it is, the writing advice that has meant the most to me.
The agent who is no longer and agent. Years ago, I went to one of those “speed dating” sessions with agents. Those of you trying to get published will know what I mean, but for those of you not trying to sell a book, let me explain. These sessions have small tables with an agent sitting at each one and you sign up to spend about five minutes pitching an agent on your book. OK, I’ll be honest, I hate these types of events. I don’t think it’s enough time to have any kind of meaningful conversation with anyone about anything. It feels cheesy and kind of desperate. But I didn’t know I hated these events when I went to this first one. It was awful. But then I ran into an agent whom I’d met at on another occasion, so our “speed date” was actually rather pleasant and we mostly talked about how much we both loved Melissa Bank. She asked when my manuscript was going to be ready and I told her in a few months. That didn’t happen. But I wanted to maintain contact so I sent her an email telling her that. She replied, “It’s better that it’s better than sooner.” Having spent most of my adult life working in high tech, this concept was a radical idea for me. So I slowed down and made it better. It took a lot longer than a few months. Actually, it took so long that this wonderful agent had decided not to be an agent. But she was right. It’s a much better book for not being sooner. When I got my book deal, I wrote her and told her that.
The writer whose name I can’t remember. When I first started writing ten years ago, I went to a small weekend writing conference at a local college. Each night after our sessions, we’d gather in one large room for guest writers to tell us their words of wisdom and read some of their writing. There was one man–short and scrappy looking–who got up to read from his memoir. I honestly don’t even remember what the memoir was about. I was tired and wasn’t really paying much attention. But then he said something I will never forget. He said, “Whatever it is your don’t want to tell is is exactly what we want to know.” He was talking about writing a memoir and how the meat of the memoir is the things you didn’t want to say. But I realized the same was true for characters in fiction. What makes them interesting is not just what they say and do around other people, but also what they and think when they are alone. Those dark corners of their emotions are were the truth in our characters hides. And we have to coax it out into the light.
So those are my two best pieces of advice to share.
“It’s better that it’s better than sooner.”
“What you don’t want to tell us is what we want to know.”
Now go forth and write your masterpieces.
3 Replies to ““It’s better that it’s better than sooner” and other words of wisdom”
“Better” vs. “sooner” indeed. How long did Shakespeare take to write Hamlet? Nobody knows and nobody cares.
I remember years ago there was a movie that was coming out. Way over budget, way behind schedule, everybody was going to know the ending before they saw it — it was predicted to be an epic train wreck — a bomb.
It was Titanic, which went on to be the most successful movie in history at that time. Once the movie starts, who thinks about anything except what’s on the screen?
I got very similar advice from an agent at one of the first conferences I went to. It made me rethink how I approached writing—did I just want to have a completed manuscript, or a great manuscript? Because writing x number of words and typing “The End” is the easy part!
Thanks for this! I’ve already used “it’s better that it’s better than sooner” in a conversation with a writing partner.
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