A Dash of This and a Pinch of That

All too often, writing advice can come off like a recipe.

No more than three sentences in a paragraph. All paragraphs must be a minimum of three sentences. 

Keep your chapters short. Write at your own pace.

Build a rich world and trust your reader will keep up. Don’t confuse the reader with too many characters.

On and on, the advice goes. And often, pending the workshop you’re sitting in, it can seem like a whole lot of noise and very little help in navigating your work in progress.

The reality is that each of the thoughts above (both parts of each) are true. Or can be pending the circumstance, the author and the story. But when you’re trying to figure out the best path forward in your own work it can seem like an exhausting path to navigate.

Writing, for as much as we want a magic formula, isn’t a recipe. It’s not a neat set of instructions or a specific combination of steps that produce a book. Instead, writing is messy and chaotic and comes from a part of us that operates quite off the map. (Again, though, take my thoughts with a solid grain of salt … what works for me is what works for me. That’s really about all I truly know!!)

Coming to this realization – that you need to find what works for you and broom the rest – is a huge step in the writer’s toolkit. In fact, I’d argue it’s one of the most important steps in the working writer’s self-discovery. There’s always something to learn – a new craft tip, a new approach or a fresh way to look at your work. But trusting your gut and understanding that whatever new nugget you’ve discovered has to work for YOU is essential.

In the end, a dash of this and a pinch of that may work for tomorrow evening’s dinner, but it’s not necessarily the best recipe for your work. Only you can determine that. And only you can know what ingredients are truly required to make your work sing.

Thanks for joining me today. And in the spirit of learning and sharing, do feel free to share any tips that have made a world of difference in your writing. While I am a firm believer that we have to find the right combination that works for each of us, I love hearing others’ tips and tricks and how they’ve helped you become a better writer.

Happy Writing!




15 responses to “A Dash of This and a Pinch of That”

  1. I love this, Addison, and I couldn’t agree more that finding your unique process is a huge part of the learning curve when it comes to writing. The best advice I ever got was to “Just Generate” on the first draft – to keep going and power through to the end, and make notes of things you want to change, sure, but don’t get bogged down trying to make the first draft perfect. I know other people who edit as they go along and that works well for them, but for me the only way to turn off the internal editor is to give myself permission to suck and JUST GENERATE!

    • Addison Fox says:

      “Just generate” – I LOVE this!

      And it’s so true – that internal editor can be a raging lunatic when she gets going. Giving yourself permission to tell the story is so essential.

  2. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great post, Addison!

    I’m very process-oriented, and one thing I recently realized is that I wasn’t following an important piece of advice I frequently give to others: that processes evolve and change over time. What works for one project might not work as well for the next, and if you find yourself stalling out for some reason, don’t afraid to try something different.

    I realized this talking about processes at my own dang #RWA18 panel. Process analyst, heal thyself! 🙂

    • Addison Fox says:

      Preach it, sister!! (I’m WAY better at giving advice than taking it!!)

      But I also think you’re right. We don’t often consider that we’re growing all the time. I think this gets harder and harder to remember as we get older. The reality is that we’re all students, mastering new skills and new ideas all the time. Remembering that – and finding ways to use the news things we learn – can and will change our process from time to time.

  3. Thank you for this, Addison. I sometimes wonder if I’m wrong in doing things my way rather than what others are preaching.I have sat in countless workshops and come away with great knowledge. And I’ve tried to implement some of what I’ve learned and mold it into what I already do. However, more often than not, I revert back to what’s natural and comfortable for me. I still evolve and learn but only the advice or lesson that fits my style and makes my writing better stick.

    • Addison Fox says:

      These are great points and I love the idea of doing what’s natural and comfortable. So much of creativity comes from instinct. Honoring that is incredibly important.

  4. Julia Day says:

    Here’s two of my favorite pieces of advice:

    Use what resonates and ignore the rest.

    Learn the rules, so that when you break them, you know why.

  5. Great post, Addison. I’ve tried many different things and keep going back to what feels natural and enjoyable. For me, that seems to be key.

    • Addison Fox says:

      Here here, Bev!! (and since your books are awesome it’s clearly a great strategy!!)

      I do think, though, there’s really something to be said for instinct. I think classes and craft discussions are wonderful – and necessary – but it’s so important to ensure they don’t cloud our instincts, either.

      Like most everything, it’s finding balance. Continuing to learn and stretch and grow but not forgetting what got us started and engaged in writing in the first place!

  6. Darynda Jones says:

    I adore this, Addison!

    Many people want to know how I outline. As a huge plotter, my outlines have become synonymous with my process, but I warn every person I talk to that even plotters each have our own unique way of getting the story down. I have learned not to mess with my process and there is simply no one way to plot. Or write. Or edit. I always tell people to give my process a try if they want to, but it will all boil down to what works best, and is more productive, for them.

    OH! And funny story. I once had a writing instructor get on to me for having a one-sentence paragraph in my short story. He’d called me up to his desk and was admonishing me, telling me no real author ever has one-sentence paragraphs..

    He’d been reading a John Grishom novel and had it open in his lap. I pointed to the page he was reading, the one that had not one, but two one-sentence paragraphs. It couldn’t have been more perfect if I’d planned it. He shut up after that. hehe

    • Addison Fox says:

      I LOVE that story about your instructor! It’s so “comforting” to think there are rules but that’s just not the way it works.

      And that is so cool on your plotting. But as you said – that’s your process. It’s great for others to hear it and see if there are elements that resonate, but it doesn’t mean it will be the right path for them.

      I do love process discussions, though. I know I’ve said it on the blog before, but I’m both fascinated and awed by the fact that as writers we all start with an idea and end up with a manuscript but the WAYS we get there are wildly different and as personal as a fingerprint.

  7. Great advice, Addison. I would also add that hearing the same advice from different educators at different times in your career can actually open your eyes to a new element or new way of approaching a technique. That is why craft sessions never get old for me.

    • Addison Fox says:

      AJ – I SO agree with this. I think there are different lessons we’re ready to hear at different times.

      Net-net … craft sessions are ALWAYS a good idea!! 🙂


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