Writing advice from the very beginning

Today, I was on the campus of Columbus State Community College, where I led a workshop over the life of a writer and my Fourteen Principles for Creative Writers. As with most of my workshops, we had a nice, intimate group, which meant we could have a conversation, and I got to do one of my favorite things: learn from others.

At the beginning, I asked everyone to write down one rule they had for themselves as writers. It was a good mix, because the group in the room included fellow creative writing teachers, at least one professional writer, and a lot of students and beginning writers. And I told them I wanted to know where they’re starting from, what they think is important to them in their writing.

The workshop discussion developed from there as I then walked them through some of the guidelines I’d made for myself.

Photo by Brad Pauquette.
Photo by Brad Pauquette.

At the end, I asked them to write down one writing rule they wanted me to know — what did they have to teach me? And they had such great ideas that I asked if I could share them here on the blog. Not everyone was brave enough to give me their note card, but the ones I got are terrific.

Never discard a character that you create. They could always serve you later if you don’t need them today. ~ Luke Harris

I like this advice because it gives me permission to be the packrat that I am. I think we all ought to follow the usual advice to “kill your darlings,” which applies as much to characters as to whole works. But I like this idea of hanging onto discarded characters and using them later in a story better suited to them.

Entertain, or ‘don’t be boring.’ (It’s what I’m shooting for.) ~ Norris Forte

I’m very interested in writing as art, but I don’t see that and writing as entertainment as being mutually exclusive. I spent a lot of time today talking about how important it is to write things you yourself would most want to read, and that’s definitely about entertainment as much as artistry.

Take risks and trust my gut. ~ Denise Fisher

I love this twin bit of advice: combining the daring of risk-taking in writing with the comfort of trusting oneself. They seem contradictory, but each is so important to the other!

Write a poem every day. ~ Caitlin Garrity

I talked to several people today about how much I have learned about my prose style from reading poetry and talking to poets. Though I’m not much of a poet, this is good advice for me personally.

Discuss the commercial considerations (profitability — the money that can be made) as a professional. ~ Harold

I got it drilled into my head pretty early that I’m not going to get rich off my writing. Very, VERY few people do. So I’ve abandoned those expectations (though not those desires) a long time ago. But there is still money to be made in writing — for some people, perhaps even a living — and the nuts of bolts of writing as a job, of paying your bills with words, is something I need to give more attention to.

In the beginning, the only opinion that matters is yours. In writing, there are no boundaries. It’s just words. ~ Brittany Howard

When Brittany handed me this, I pointed to the note card she’d written it on and said, “Yes! Trust yourself, absolutely, but I like that you begin that advice with ‘in the beginning.’ Seek the opinions of others, absolutely, but start with yourself. This is great.”

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

3 thoughts on “Writing advice from the very beginning

  1. An interesting exercise, but at the end of the day ‘writing’ can’t be rendered down to a back-of-a-matchbox thing. From the time I started I have tried hard not to have rules, mainly because I know I would break them. For me, haphazard works; but that doesn’t mean that for me writing isn’t complex, it is, and actually I probably have a whole list of rules I’m not aware of but follow anyway…

    Still, it’s always interesting to hear what other writers have to say. That’s one reason why I follow your blog.


    1. Yeah, I was very clear up front that these were MY principles for MY writing — that these won’t be the same for everyone — and one reason I had them write their own advice was so they could develop their own rules — even if the rule was “there are no rules.” 🙂

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