Nick Mamatas’ (Bad) Advice Column

O.K., writers, drop everything and go read Nick Mamatas’ “Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers.”

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Mamatas is an editor, writer, and writing instructor. Even if you disagree, his opinion is not to be dismissed lightly. I’m actually quite a big admirer of his writing, which is always interesting even when it’s not my cup of tea. (I don’t think I’m breaking any confidentiality agreements by mentioning that I put two things he’s written on my Nebula ballot this year.)

And please don’t stress if something he lists as “bad” advice helped you a great deal as a writer. Several of the things he delineates helped turn me around, too. But that doesn’t make the advice universal. Nor should you take this list as license to insist you don’t need to improve your writing and/or to act like an ass on the internet. Please!

A Million Words

A discussion sprung up recently on a forum I belong to about the legendary “million words” that it’s said a writer must produce before their work becomes of sufficient quality to sell professionally. An alternate version of this is the old adage that it takes 10 years to produce an overnight success. The upshot of both is that you won’t sell The New Yorker the first thing you ever wrote. In fact, the first thing you ever wrote will almost certainly not sell at all. But does it really take a million words?  Continue reading

Narrators Are People, Too

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about how one develops “voice” as a writer. To me, this discussion is a bit silly, because the “voice” of a writer isn’t the writer’s, it’s the narrator’s. The narrator decides what parts of the story to tell, what details to call attention to, what dialogue to reproduce (and how to reproduce it), which characters and settings are important, and so forth. And to simply say that the narrator is the author is, frankly, lazy. Continue reading