Expert Writing Advice I’m Glad I Followed

From my high school English teacher to Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin, these conversations with writers have helped me succeed

I’ve received a lot of valuable writing advice over the years, and it was all free. Yup. Free! These kind people graciously gave of their time and expertise to help this Canadian writer from small-town-Ontario get to where she is now. Where am I again?

But I jest. I’m grateful to have Amazon bestselling novels, audiobooks and scripts after 26 years of working as a professional writer, and I have these and other writers to thank. Unless I’ve added quotes because I got the advice in writing, these are memories from our conversations—some of which took place 35 years ago! and not direct quotes.

Sally Smith, former editor of The Kanata Kourier and my first writing mentor (I was 15!)

Write with your heart, edit with your mind.

Frances Connolly, my amazing high school English and creative writing teacher

Don’t forget to add in taste as a description. We often read about the sense: vision, sound, even feel, sometimes we get scents, but authors often forget to describe flavours. Cover the whole spectrum of senses for maximum emotional impact in your reader.

Aaron Sorkin, Oscar-winning Screenwriter, Playwright and Film Director (The West Wing, The Social Network, Being the Ricardos)

I asked him what to do when a sub-character won’t shut up:

“Strictly speaking if you’re writing page after page that doesn’t have anything to do with your story, you might be writing a different story than you think. Intention and obstacle. Forward motion. You have to make your words do something.”

I asked him his thoughts on recycling our own material:

“Some things are just always sexy, and some things are just always funny.”

When I pressed him: what’s always funny? I got “Cheese.” Me: “But not Gouda! That’s smelly.” Him: “Not actual cheese. The word cheese.”

You might notice I make a reference to cheese in nearly every single work I’ve written since 2010. I always will. Maybe it’s not funny anymore, but you can all look for this Easter egg in my work and smile now, knowing where it came from, and that it’s my way of saying thanks.

Michael J. Weithorn, award-winning writer-producer-director (King of Queen’s, A Little Help, The Sidekick, Weird Loners)

You can always increase the tension. Tear your character’s world apart dramatically. It makes for the falling back together at the end more powerful. 

 Ken Cuthbertson, award-winning author and former editor, Queen’s Alumni Review magazine

Every time you write, make sure you teach the reader something. When they’re finished the article, they should always have new information and hopefully a new perspective.

We’re a helpful bunch, because we know the struggle is real.

The moral of my story is: if you don’t ask, you don’t get! So, don’t be shy. Ask a writer you admire a question. Maybe you can find them on social media, or if you’re lucky, in line at registration at a writers conference. But buy them a book, not a drink. Times have changed.

Writers are usually willing to help those who remind them of where they started. I know I am -but please let’s pretend I’m still 26.

2 comments

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  1. Images by Ceci

    What wonderful advice and thank you so much for sharing! Many people pass through our lives and inspire us to do something, to do better, to do more. You just did that for me. Thank you.

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