22 September 2009

A Word of Advice

Hi, Friends!

To those of you who attended the ACFW conference, welcome back! I can't wait to read all about it on your blogs, hear about your experiences, and learn more about this industry. Was it everything you hoped it would be?

In honor of those who went the conference who probably have new profound insight that they would love to share (and we'd love to read) and for all of us who are constantly learning along the way, today's post focuses on advice. My question to you is:

What is the best advice (in regards to writing--this could be about publishing, the writing process, etc) that you've ever heard? And why?

I've spent a large part of this past year learning and researching about this industry. Back in the spring, I jokingly referred to it as my own MFA program, just without all the official bells and whistles of an actual university. I think if someone were to sit before me and ask, "What have you learned so far?" my mind would swim and I'd have trouble placing all the details. It seems like the more I learn, the more I realize I still don't know.

I'd have to say that the best advice I received as far as writing came from an English professor I had for three consecutive semesters. She was hilarious, at times very irreverent, and very passionate about literature. This professor constantly pushed me to be better as a writer. The first class of hers' that I took was a creative writing course. We studied Flannery O'Conner (love her!) and wrote our own original pieces. She was so personable as a teacher but brutal in marking our papers. A compliment from her was like gold. She did hand them out, even if she didn't agree with or even like the subjects of our works. This professor really knew what she was talking about. The best thing she ever said to me was:

"Don't tell me about love*. It's vague; it's abstract and generic. Tell me about a toaster. Tell me how it smells, feels, and looks. What is it about that toaster that is so important? And what can that toaster tell us about love*?"

Basically, it was the first time I ever heard about "Show vs. Tell". I'm definitely still learning, still trying to get better at it. But I'll never forget her advice. It's followed me, along with a few other choice pieces for the past six years.

So there it is. My lifetime of writing, college education based on English, and the years spent in the pursuit of publishing, all summed up in one simple image:

What about you? What advice changed how you write or pursue publication?

See y'all Thursday!

By the way, I don't know if any of y'all have seen what's happening in Georgia right now, but just wanted to ask y'all to pray. We've been in serious drought for years; so much so that Lake Lanier, which powers much of Atlanta, was seriously low. However, God has really brought the rain... only, it's not stopping. It's rained every day for five days straight-- not light showers, but flash flooding types of rain. Now, roads are washed out, people have died, creeks and rivers have overrun their boundaries. We're having to cancel schools. It's too much for our ground to soak in so it's all running off. If y'all would just pray for safety, shelter for those who've lost it, and for a break in the rain that would be great. It would be nice to see the sun again. It hasn't shown much in the past 2 weeks. Rumor has it that fall has some beautiful colors! Thanks!

**substitute the word "love" for grace, redemption, compassion, etc., all concepts without concrete roots. Image found on google images.


  1. I love what your English professor taught you about show don't tell. I wonder if I will be able to look at my toaster and only see a toaster now. :)

  2. *cringe* I didn't know that about Georgia. :-(

    Love the pic, love the advice. For me, I'm not sure this is the best advice but it's been the most helpful, and that is, "There are no rules."

  3. The best advice I've ever heard was to get all submissions/queries back in the mail within 48 hours of their return. If you have a plan, you won't let those queries languish.

  4. Hmmm...I've gotten so much excellent advice along the way.

    I loved Debbie Macomber's opening speech at the conference. Basically, her advice was to think positive and dream big! I love that!

  5. I think I heard it recently...although it's the second time I've heard it; I just forgot it! I'm listening to Stephen King's On Writing, where he talks about giving up on Carrie and tossing it in the trash. He said something to the effect of, just because something's hard or a lot of work, doesn't mean you should give up on it. And sometimes when what you're writing seems like absolute crap, it's really good! I've felt that way about every book I've written, yet when I go back and read it later, I almost always think, "That was MUCH better than I thought." Not sure what that's about!

  6. Toaster love. Good stuff. Nathan Bransford posted about Show vs: Tell yesterday. Good stuff.

    Two things off the top of my head:
    A fellow blogger (the name and blog slips me...but their message stuck) wrote something along the lines of think of a character/thing/idea and bring it to life on the page. It sounds abstract, but it's something I remember every time I sit to write.

    Next, Stephen King in On Writing suggests to write the first draft with the door closed and to edit the second draft with the door open. Also, good stuff! :D
    ~ Wendy

  7. Show vs Tell, yep that's one of the best pieces of advice out there. Love the toaster pic too!

  8. Actually one of the best pieces of advice to me was from author Robert Liparulo who said it isn't always about the writing, it's more about perseverance. That spoke volumes to me about the industry.

  9. Show vs. tell is important. The funny thing is, I learned it from my eleven-year-old son. (He was ten at the time). I was trying to explain to my mom that you can't just say I loved him. You have to write something that demonstrates that love. My son speaks up and says, "You mean like show don't tell." Yes, they are learning this in fifth grade (maybe even sooner). Isn't that wonderful?

  10. Wow, Nicole, that's powerful! And a great reminder that we're all in this for the long run, not just the first hurdle.

    Jessica, I'm going to remember that the next time I get down on myself for breaking a rule! That and, "There's no crying in baseball!", just because...

    Whoa, Wendy... I wonder if it makes a big difference? I will have to try that!

    Stephanie, I do that too! Sometimes it's only after coming back to it that I realize that it doesn't stink as badly as I thought. That's such a relief!

    Caroline, I'm really going to remember that when the time comes around again. It's great advice!

    I know, Need More Words! It's like I constantly have this image of a toaster in my head!

    These are great! The little things we've heard/read can really make a big difference in how we write!

  11. LazyWriter, that's awesome! And good for him, learning it so early. I definitely didn't hear it until college. And it's still sinking in now!

  12. Yes, I will pray! I saw a picture today of an amusement park under water in Georgia and was shocked!

  13. Thank you!

    Hey, y'all, the sun is shining! Woohooo! Forecast calls for more rain tonight, but it's just great to see the sun. Thanks for praying!

  14. This has been an awful year for flooding. Fargo in the spring and Georgia in the fall. I'll keep you in my prayers.

    I've gotten so much great advice. Since I struggle with description, the following advice struck home with me: don't describe a room, give the character's reaction to the room. Always make descriptions do double duty.

  15. I hope you're okay! I was thinking about you earlier when I saw the footage on TV. SCARY. I couldn't believe the pictures I saw.

    Great advice from your teacher!

    I think the best advice on writing I've gotten was to make sure each sentence, each paragraph, and each scene propels the plot forward. There's just not enough time to ramble in a book (much as I love to ramble!)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  16. This is something I put together based on various concepts and comments: Know what you want to write before you write it. This doesn't mean you need an outline to write, but you need some guidelines. You need to know who your target audience is, what genre you plan to write, and what the basic guidelines in the industry are for that type of work.

    On another note, your post reminded me of The Brave Little Toaster.

  17. One of the best nuggets I received was RUE - resist the urge to explain. Instead of talking for your character, allow your character to express himself/herself.

    Susan :)

  18. Love it, Susan! That's awesome!

    Great advice, Tara! It's really easy to forget and move into a different genre/audience. Sometimes it's just easy to get carried away...

    That's a painful one, Elizabeth, because it could mean cutting the "favorite" parts. It's so important, though.

    Jill, that's so great. I love the double duty; it gives me a lot to think about!

  19. I didn't know about Georgia and will definitely be praying.
    And that is one cool toaster. Best advice - write from your heart and Write for yourself but I definitely do need to learn more about showing. I tell too much. I would have loved to have a teacher like you described. Your posts are soooo great. thanks Sarah

  20. We've been watching the news about Georgia--I hope you aren't close to any rivers. Praying!
    And that is too funny about the toaster! Just recently I read that showing and telling is easy to remember if you write about what the character did after the event happened.

  21. Hi Kristen,
    I saw some of your earlier posts and found out you are relatively new to the blogging world. I just started a week ago and have learned so much by reading some of your posts along with other wonderful blogs.
    I really enjoyed your toaster story. It is a great reminder of what involves readers and what keeps them coming back for more.

  22. Off topic, but hewre are your 5 words!


  23. Thanks, JungleMom! It'll be a special Friday post for this week!

    Thanks so much for your encouragement, Terri, Ava, and Sarah! And it's nice to meet you, Ava! Thanks for coming by!

  24. I got similar advice. Punctuations like exclamation points aren't nearly as important as how the story's told. The reader will place their own emotion into the sentence.

  25. Oh, I'm praying! Sounds very scary!

    And as far as writing advice, I can't really put my finger on one that stands out. But this past weekend, the keynote speaker was so motivational and challenged us to dream big, to write down our biggest dreams about writing, because usually our head follows our heart and makes those dreams come true! I loved that thought!