More writing advice from a prolific author

March 10, 2024

Text on beige background reads: Prolific writing advice from the author that inspired Rambo

A photo of books with their spines facing the wall. They are stacked up against a white wall with beams of light streaming in from the right.
Photo by Asal Lotfi on Unsplash

Sometimes prolific writing advice comes to you when you least expect it.

Stay with me here. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. About 40 of the 70 books I read last year were via Everand. So I am well-versed in getting throttled by Scribd/Everand’s reading limit, which sounds more intense than it is.

If they feel you’re taking in too much content, they’ll start restricting what you can access. It’s how they can keep their subscription service ‘unlimited’ while still making sure they aren’t paying through the nose for royalty fees on new releases.

And while that enrages some people, I kind of love it. I feel a sort of pride whenever I realize my account has been restricted. But the even better thing about it is that it forces me to discover new content I simply wouldn’t have otherwise.

Case in point: coming across THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST by David Morrell. I had never heard of David Morrell before reading this book, despite the fact that he’s the writer behind the 1972 film franchise, Rambo, and a multitude of other successful thrillers and comic books since then.

His guide for writers was so fascinating and hit on so many different points. Or maybe they were old points that had never hit home because they hadn’t been explained in a way that really stuck.

Finding your own unique voice is a common theme in his book, and many others on the subject. But below is some of the best writing advice I found he delivered in a completely new, or fresh way.

My top three pieces of writing advice from THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST

  1. Start with a conversation with your muse, discussing this new project.

    I loved this idea so much I wrote an entire article on it. I even shared my draft conversation. But here’s the Cole’s notes. Essentially, Morrell came up with a way of turning plotting into a fun, quick, creative writing exercise.

    When you have a new idea for a story, he suggests you sit yourself down at your desk and write out a conversation between yourself and another character, explaining the plot. The exercise allows you enough distance from the story to see if it would make sense to another person.

    It’s also a really creative way of engaging with the content and characters right away, instead of having to go through the (often) dry and boring process of plotting out acts and scenes.

    At the end of the day, it’s about finding whatever works to get words onto the page, and this approach definitely worked for me.
  2. To be a writer you must have an inexplicable need to do it, despite the fact that it will mean certain pain and little ROI.

    Much like Anne Lamott’s advice that writing is the actual gift, Morrell states the following:

    “You’ll find it revealing if, after asking yourself “Why do I want to be a writer?”, you ask yourself, “Why do I want to write this particular kind of fiction?”

    “Because I need to.”

    “Why do you need to?”

    If you follow the logic in the progression of these questions, if you pay attention to the ferret that’s gnawing inside you, you’ll have a subject matter that’s your own.”

    The essential ingredient to becoming a writer is needing to do it, despite everything and everyone telling you that you shouldn’t.
  3. Write dialogue attributions into the action to help with flow and reduce repetition.

    I’ve been writing since I was a kid. When I was 8 I wrote 25 pages of Beauty and the Beast fanction and made my family check it out of my ‘library.’ I also hold diplomas and advanced degrees in Journalism, English literature and publishing, and yet the above never really clicked for me before.

    What Morrell means is that instead of simply using a line of dialogue with the attribution of, ‘so and so said.’ You can simply illustrate an action to attribute the line to them.

    Example without Morrell’s advice:

    “I can’t be here right now,” Marina said.

    “Where’re you gonna go?” Todd asked.

    “I don’t know. Anywhere but here.”

    The above is fine, but you can see how it would get repetitive and boring if the entire novel were written as such.

    Example with Morrell’s advice:

    “I can’t be here right now.” Marina’s eyes flashed back to the door as she continued stuffing clothes into her bag.

    “Where’re you gonna go?” Todd asked.

    “I don’t know. Anywhere but here.” Marina shouldered her bag and let out soft sigh.

    There is so much more depth to the second example, and it’s still completely clear who is speaking.

Summary

Perhaps another takeaway here, is that if you want to earn degrees in creative writing and you can afford it, then more power to you. But if you want to learn practical advice from people who’ve already cracked the code, hit the books.

So what do you think? Which books on writing have offered the best advice?