Much like the Not Ready for Primetime Players, there is a group of amazingly talented authors on the cusp of stardom. They gather here at the Not so Famous Author's Blog to tell you all about writing and smashing your head on a desk. No just the writing part. .


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Write, Just Write
By Amanda Albright Still

The most important piece
of advice for a writer? 
Well, that would be
“Just write.”  You have
to have something written,
to have pressed on to the
 finish to be a writer. 
A blank page is full of
possibilities, a chance for you
 to tell a story that makes readers
smile or cry.  Fill up those blank pages,
 finish what you start, and
you have  something most people
never will, a story. 
The Finish: Take it to the End
I’ve known authors who have said that they get asked all the time, “Where do you get your ideas?”  I’ve only gotten this once, it was from my mother-in-law and I suspect she was just being nice.  Maybe I seem more clueless than other writers, but most of the time, people tell me what ideas they think I should use.  “You should write a book about my office,” a friend said to me.  “It’s full of just the craziest people.” 
“Sounds like a book you should write,” I said to one man with a story based on his harrowing experiences as a family-law attorney.  “You know it and you have the enthusiasm for it.  You’re the one who could get it right.”  He shook his head.  He was willing to pay me to write his story rather than have to write the whole thing himself. 
No one else can write your story.  I learned that when I agreed to ghost-write my father’s memoirs.  I wanted to focus on the time he came face-to-face with Hitler or being injured on the Russian Front.  He wanted to describe all the pranks he played in medical school.  You can hire someone else, but they will never produce what you would like. 
The Ghost:  Someone Else’s Story
Writing is a huge amount of work.  Not only does a writer have to spend time writing it, but if he wants it to be any good, he’ll have to edit it as well.  And then re-edit.  And then input the best suggestions from his critique group and his friends.    Writing is a commitment and walking away before even starting something means you don’t have to face not having finished when you give up that manuscript three-quarters of the way through. 

The Sprint:  Making Time to Write
Most people don’t think they have time to write, but a fifteen-minute sprint (where you write as fast as you can without any concern for punctuation, typos, or if you’ve veered way off the plot highway) nets around 500 words.  You do a couple of these a day and you’ve got the start of a novel before the end of the week.  Sure, this isn’t the most imaginative writing and not the best you will do, but whatever gets out there in the first draft can be fixed in edits.  The first draft is not for crafted prose and the exact turn of phrase, it’s to spit words onto the page so that a story can be found within the text. 
Nurture Skill Rather than Wait for Talent
An even stronger reason is because we believe we lack the talent to tell our story.  We don’t have time because we are waiting for that lightning-strike of talent to hit. 
While I’ve read many stories that were not to my taste and some that were written badly, I suspect that just about everyone who is interested in books, everyone who loves to read, has inside them that spark needed to create art.  Often, having talent can hinder writers because it makes them lazy; they don’t take the time to learn the rules of writing or to develop the skills. 
My voice teacher, a formidable woman who studied at the Royal Conservatory in her native Belgium, used to point to the end of her pinky and say, “One-percent talent, ninety-nine percent work.”  Rely on talent, and you won’t do the work, you won’t just write, and you won’t keep on until you are finished. 
Fortunately, writers have all sorts of resources out there to help them write, to develop talent, and to keep writing until they are finished. 
The Support Group:  NaNoWriMo

The nonprofit group, is the National Novel Writing Month where participants from all over the world push themselves to become award-winning novelists by writing a 50,000-word novel.  Every November and camps throughout the year, they encourage people to become authors.  They help you get the words onto that cyberpage and get a novel finished.  Chris Baty who started NaNoWriMo has the philosophy of “just write.” Even if you get stuck and write nothing but old song lyrics, get something on that page, get your novel going, and finish it.  Baty believes that pushing ahead and writing fast is necessary for the first draft.  Otherwise, your internal editor will step in and start finding fault.  The internal editor is a great help when going through a draft and editing, but don’t let it write for you.
The Evil Editor:  Your Inner Fifth-Grade Teacher
I have a particularly harsh internal editor.  Mine can be help on an editing pass, when tamed down to say, “That metaphor doesn’t work,” “The phrasing there is too complex,” or “What the hell?”  When writing a draft, my internal editor takes on the voice of my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Closey, who thought I was the most loathsome of hyperactive children to ever cause a rise in blood-pressure.  Often, her comments are, “You think that’s good enough?”, “What makes you think you can write something anyone wants to read?” or just a scoffing laugh.   
Another question I get frequently is, “how long does it take you to finish a novel?”  I used to not know.  I didn’t want to know, but then I took a look at my progress.  Now, I give the honest answer of, “Five months of actually working on the novel, but a year and a half if I listen to that voice in my head telling me it isn’t good enough.” 

Some writers have listened to their internal Mrs. Closey and can’t write.  When the brilliant Douglas Adams fell to writers block for the last several years of his life, I suspect the Mrs. Closey in his head was behind it.  When I start a scene, such as a fight scene when the only fight I’ve ever been in was with my hair-pulling sister, I get scared, I hear Mrs. Closey, but then I have to shut her out by saying, “Write, just write.”
About Me

I’m the author of the Hurricane Mystery Series, ECHOES OF THE STORM and BRIDES OF THE STORM, set in Galveston, right after the 1900 Hurricane, as well as the military thriller, SHADOW OF TWILIGHT.  When I’m not writing, I’m working with my husband and daughters to restore our Victorian house in Galveston.  While some people have waiters in fine restaurants greet them by name, we are known to the guys at the Salvage Yards. 


  1. You're exactly right! I didn't even realize I had an internal editor until I participated in my first NaNoWriMo. After I learned to turn it off (to a degree), the writing came easier.

    Regarding waiting for lightning to strike, if you wait, it never will. Some of my best work has come from times where I "forced" myself to sit and work on the story. Writing every day not only keeps it fresh in your mind, but it allows the subconscious to work on the story until you have a chance to write again.

    It's amazing how many people give me ideas for stories and say "You should write *that*! It would make a better story." Than??? Most of the time their suggestions are for books that aren't even in the genre in which I write :) Ah well.

    Great post, Amanda.

    Melanie Macek

    1. Thank you so much, Melanie. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only writer who people feel need some ideas.