What I’ve Learned from Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses is one of the few podcasts I listen to nowadays. So, why is that, and what has it taught me?

The first lesson that I learned, was from the first-ever episode I listened to, and it’s what has made the greatest impact on my writing life so far.

How I write is not wrong.

I knew this, deep down, already but there was always a nagging worry that was telling me that I was doing it all wrong. I don’t have a hugely detailed notebook that had entire character histories in it. Every exchange within each scene wasn’t planned out in minute detail…in fact, when I tried this kind of set up (yes, I gave it a go – always try things that aren’t going to kill you once) I froze up. I’d planned it all out, so what was the point of continuing on with the writing? I’d done it once already. I didn’t want to have to go over it all again…in even more detail.

It came as a huge surprise to discover this because every preconceived notion I’d had about ‘how you should write’ said that the words would just flow from me like a river of dreams after I’d planned it all out. I expected a stream of consciousness to spring forth and for it to be easy once I’d done all the hard work of planning.

But, apparently, I’m a discovery writer. I don’t work like that.

I let my characters talk and I write as they go through their lives. I let them lead me in the direction that they want to go. This does have the drawback of them occasionally derailing me spectacularly and sending me in a direction I really shouldn’t be going. But the occasional re-work and mental wrestling match are worth it. It works for me. I feel my way through my writing. And that’s OK.

I do need to know where I’m heading though, so a small outline is good (otherwise the possibilities are a bit too endless and the void tends to suck me in) but too much detail is bad for me, and that, right there, was worth learning. And hearing an authority figure like Brandon Sanderson saying that this was a real thing, settled my heart in a way that nothing else ever had.

What’s the conflict is now my go-to catchphrase.

Every scene has to have some sort of conflict. It’s something that we all get taught at school and promptly forget the moment we head home. But when you’re stuck, it’s a life-saver.

Ask yourself the question, and see where it leads.

It doesn’t have to be a huge argument or a world-ending crisis — it could simply be that your character has lost their shoe and has to find it — but there has to be some form of conflict to keep things both interesting and moving forward. Conflict drives your plot.

My first books probably sucked ass and that’s OK.

In order to get better at writing, you have to, wait for it…keep writing! (I know, it was shocking to me too.) The guys on the podcast actually analysed the opening paragraph of their first books and shredded them to pieces, but in a good way. They used it as an example to show that no one is ever good at writing the first time they try it and that having a sense of humour about it will go along way towards keeping you sane.

Feedback is good. Get someone to actually read your work, critically.

They created their own writer’s group (that’s how they got to know each other) and in doing so helped improve each other’s work. Having someone look at your writing with fresh eyes – who is actually willing to be honest in order to improve your work – is a good thing. Discussion is good, brainstorming is good and listening to someone else’s take on your ideas is good. So, if you see something you think I can improve upon, please, feel free to let me know! I’d love to hear it.

But, that’s all for today folks. The roof tiles on my house have been blown down by the latest storm to hit the UK and I have to go call my landlord. I hope you all have a fantastic day and get those 300 words in! If I can do it, so can you ❤

Sophie, signing out.

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