In my opinion, most writing advice focuses on totally the wrong thing: The wordy bit. Thinking about what you’re going to write and how to say it — sure, yeah, that’s important. Characters, motivations, yes, yes, yes. But there are other challenges bedeviling today’s writer, and several of them are misleadingly trivial and oft overlooked. I’ll tackle those instead, because “misleadingly trivial” is an excellent band name. Here are five pieces of writing advice no one tells you.1. Wear Layers You’d be surprised how much body temperature affects your work. Think of yourself as a racehorse; too cold and you’ll pull a muscle, too hot and you’ll get all lathery and need a really short guy to take you outside and walk you around in circles. Consider your environment, dress accordingly, then add two layers. Coffee shops are often overly air conditioned, presumably to stop writers from moving in permanently. It hasn’t stopped me, but then, I’m a highly trained professional. 2. Dress Loose I don’t know about you, but when I’m working I either type like a dervish, caressed by the muse and happily pounding away, or curled up in the chair like a pinched worm, wondering whether it’s too late to train as a veterinary nurse. For this reason — and also the general reason that life is too short for non-elasticated waistbands — wear comfortable clothing with plenty of room. You may need to assume one of the classic writer’s positions: The Hunch, The Self-Hug, The Horrified Stare, or The Forehead-Desk Pose, and non-stretch fabrics will restrict your creative flow. 3. Bring Snacks I personally like small snacks I can pop in my mouth while making vital author-type choices (is he frowning? glaring? frowning? glaring?). I favor nuts, because they’re high in some better thing whilst being low in some other, worse thing, and I particularly favor pistachios, because I can shell a load of them at once while making tougher choices (is the character dead? is he alive? dead? alive? both??) and then eat the resultant pile of little green nuggets during the lesser decisions (see original parentheses). Popcorn is okay, although sometimes I lose concentration because I’m fishing those little translucent kernel covers out of my aging teeth. I’ve flirted with M&Ms and other small chocolate items, but it turns out I have this weird allergy wherein if I eat pounds and pounds of chocolate my body gains weight. I think it’s just me; you’re probably fine. 4. Your Butt is your Achilles heel. Writing isn’t a particularly dangerous job, let’s be honest. Over-caffeination is an ever-present threat, but when was the last time a writer got harpooned or ripped asunder by a giant threshing machine … while writing? Not recently. However, the literary career does take a physical toll. Non-ergonomic seating can lead to painful Gluteus Numbeous, or Neckus Stiffus, not to mention more poetically named afflictions such as Creaky Scapula, Notetaker’s Neck or, worst of all, Mangle Wrists. This is not a modern problem: Charles Dickens had a shocking case of Peripheral Plume Disease and Henry David Thoreau took all those walks around Walden Pond in order to stop his ankles from seizing up.* Take frequent rests, lie down as much as possible, and keep a bag of frozen peas at the ready. That’s my advice. 5. The Final and Most Important Piece of Writing Advice: When in Doubt, Nap. Writing is hard. Often you can’t think of what to say, or who should say it, or what the other guy should say back to the first guy, and you end up with your hands in your pockets watching YouTube videos about dog rescues rather than getting anything done. You know what’s a better use of your time? Sleeping. Lie down, cover yourself with your softest blanket in your favorite color, and gently lower those eyelids to a count of three. When you wake up you’ll either have a solution to your problem, or just be closer to bedtime, and that’s a win in anyone’s book. In a nutshell, that’s the best advice I can give: Wear layers, dress comfortably, maintain appropriate snack levels, watch your posture, and nap whenever possible. Keep all that in mind and the actual writing-down-the-words part will be no problem at all. *Neither of these things is true, but wouldn’t it be great if they were? Writer typing article © Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
ED MCDONALDWelcome to the Misery, a blasted land that resulted from the fallout of a magical super-weapon built by a living god who has since disappeared. Here walks Captain Galharrow of Blackwing, bounty hunter and secret agent of a living god. Facing traitors, flesh-eating monsters, reluctant heroes and willing villains, Galharrow and his band of cut-throats must save the Republic from the horror of the Deep Kings and their endless army of the dead. McDonald throws you straight into the action, and some of his creations are really quite disturbing. The pace is fast, the fight scenes extremely realistic and the dialogue sharp and often witty. This is a book with heart, that despite its violence is really about the power of love and friendship. It’s not grimdark, it’s grimheart. The sequel, Ravencry, is, if anything, even better! I’m avidly looking forward to Crowfall, the final book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy, which is scheduled for release in June 2019.
ANNA SMITH SPARK
The Empires of Dust lie dreaming, but their dream is about to become a nightmare as Marith, disowned prince-turned-mercenary, sets events in motion that will unleash a storm of war across an entire continent.
This is a truly extraordinary book, literary in a way that almost demands that it be read out loud. Some people’s prose is poetic, but Smith Spark’s is positively operatic. This is a bleak and bloody story of lust and addiction, regicide and madness, that feels partly like a Greek tragedy and partly like a black metal opera. I have honestly never read a grimdark fantasy quite like this before.
The Tower of Living and Dying, the second in the Empires of Dust trilogy is equally magnificent in its mythological tone.
This was a really fun read, with a great story driven by Eames’s very particular brand of humor. It’s like what you might end up with if Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett sat down to write a book together while listening to Spinal Tap and early Black Sabbath on endless repeat.
The humor is absolutely on point, mixing classic rock analogies with gentle pokes at the fantasy genre in general, and yet this is far more than just a funny book. There’s a really engaging story here, and moments of surprising tenderness.
The sequel, Bloody Rose, is on my to-read list.
The Red Gods are rising, and no one is safe. Godblind is among the grimmest of grimdark fantasy, written in a style reminiscent of George R R Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The growing sense of despair as the story progresses and everything goes from bad to worse to oh-so-much worse is almost stifling in its intensity. One character in particular is dragged bodily across one of the most brutal character arcs I think I’ve ever read, and it’s extremely well done. And then there’s THAT scene, the one with the hammer…
Dark and bleak yet utterly compelling, this may not be a book for the squeamish but it’s definitely a thrill-ride for all grimdark fans.
The sequel, Darksoul, has just been released.
This is the one that is forthcoming, and you have a treat in store here!
A ferocious emperor’s daughter who will not be denied her birthright, an indolent prince forced to take a stand for the first time in his life, and an ancient and terrifying sorcerer with the power to destroy the world all collide in the lush, tropical islands of a fantasy world reminiscent of ancient Indonesia.
With its tense political drama and rip-roaring action on both land and on the high seas of a fresh and believable Asian-inspired setting, Gates of Stone reads like a collaboration between Joe Abercrombie and James Clavell.
Add feuding sorcerers and a queen who would eat Cersei Lannister for breakfast, and you have a truly fantastic fantasy debut. Angus Macallan is a compelling new voice in epic fantasy, and this is definitely a book to pre-order right now.
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash