Choosing which Writing Tips to follow

Be Careful Whose Writing Advice you follow

Someone unencumbered by a day job, childcare or disability is going to give advice useful to people in their situation. If you have a day job, childcare or disability or any combination of those, following such advice is setting yourself up to fail. That’s not to say the original advice was bad, just that it doesn’t apply to someone in your situation.

Write everyday is good advice for someone starting out who needs to get into the habit of writing. But bad advice if you’re the type of writer who works in fits and starts.

Be Careful What You Measure

We tend to do what we can measure, but only measure what you can control. You have no control over which submissions will become rejections or acceptances. You can influence the ratio of acceptances to rejections by checking you’re sending your best work, you’ve read your target market and know your work to be a good fit and you’ve triple-checked you’ve followed the guidelines. However, these precautions won’t guarantee success. Targeting x number of acceptances or y number of rejections won’t work because the outcome isn’t under your control and sending out submissions with the aim of hitting an acceptance/rejection target encourages you to submit even when what you have available to submit isn’t right for that market.

Another easy measurement is the word count. It’s so easy, the word processing program does it for you. But it’s problematic:

You set yourself a target of 2000 words per day. Monday you reach 1000 words. You’re actually pretty pleased with that: first day of a new regime, you’re just warming up so half-way there is a good start.

Tuesday, you write 2000 words, hitting your target. Moreover, you’ve got to the end of a short story. Measurement-wise, this is a success.

Wednesday, you sit down and look at your 3000 word story. You realise it’s bloated and start trimming all the adverbs, take out that repeated scene and decide to take out a minor character who had some good dialogue but didn’t add anything to this story (the character’s not been killed, just put aside for a story where their good dialogue is relevant). At the end of your writing session, you now have a story ready for submission. This is actually your most productive day. Measurement-wise, however, it’s a disaster. You wrote -1000 words.

What You Need To Measure

All readers care about is if your story or poems are any good. They don’t care if you spent 20 minutes or 20 years writing them. They don’t even care how many rejections your story/poem had before it was accepted. They care about whether what you wrote was a good read, however that is defined. Some readers want a pacey thriller, some an escapist romance, some want to be transported to another time period or another world, some want a thought-provoking poem.

Getting words on a page is only part of that achievement. It’s also the most measurable part, but only accounts for, at best 20%, of creative writing. Once words get on the page, they need editing. No one’s first draft is brilliant: it has to be sifted to see if those flashes of gold were genuine or pyrite.

But the most important part comes before words get to a page: the thinking, planning, plotting, researching, immersion in the fictional world you want to create. If your measurements don’t give yourself time to create, to play, your writing won’t be creative.


Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Bookstall at Leicester launch of The Significance of a Dress

2 Responses to “Choosing which Writing Tips to follow”

  1. Claire Crowther Says:

    Thanks Emma. This is the best advice for poets – and no doubt other sorts of writers, but I can only speak for poetry – that I’ve seen! Few of us are brave enough to say it to new poets but a poet is in the unknown, creatively and practically. It’s all about how you, as an individual poet, manage not to stop till the best poem emerges…

  2. emmalee1 Says:

    Thank you. That’s precisely the message.


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