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Know Jack #344 How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

“Don’t spend too much time researching good writing.”

Stephen King

Some of the biggest moneymakers in the writing business seem to be those who are selling books, webinars, and courses on how to write, and how to be a writer. While I don’t advocate ignoring good advice, these self-help gurus are about as much help as diet gurus. By the way, how did your last diet go?

Ultimately writing, like a diet, is a lifestyle that you adopt forever. This means you have to work it out yourself from material gathered from a lot of trial and error. There are no magic pills, no magic formulas, and no overnight successes. That is unless you wish to count just sitting at the keyboard every day and gutting it out.

It sounds like a Catch-22, but actually writing is the best way to become a better writer. Well, that and a willingness to show your work to people unafraid to call it crap to your face. (So beware of woke groups who only say positive things.) Honest criticism is the ignition for research into good writing—find out why critics think your stuff is crap. They might be wrong, but don’t count on it, and they can’t all be wrong.

They are being honest. You be honest too--honest with yourself. You don’t have to admit your faults to the critics, but you owe it to yourself to do so. It may be just my personality, but someone panning my writing inspires me to say, “Hold my beer and watch this @*%$!”

I may write this little advice blog every week, but I’m no expert. I’m not convinced there are any real experts. There are only writers who have found what works for them and have a clear vision of how they measure success. That does not mean it will work for you no matter how slick it is marketed.

It’s not a cop-out to decide that you’re not going to be the next big thing in the world of literature. The only real cop-out is settling for being less than the best writer you can be.

I will close with one final note about writers and research. While you don’t need to be distracted from writing to study writing, if you wish to write well, you must do research. This is true of all fiction, not just historical fiction. Find out when moonrise and moonset happen with each phase of the moon. Can silver really be crafted into bullets? If there’s a song playing on the radio, or a slang term in a conversation was it part of the time period you’re writing about?

Find out.

A young writer in a group I once belonged to shared a dialogue that was supposed to take place in 1970 San Francisco. It was well-received by the group, except for this one old guy who lived in that area that year. I had to temper my comments while letting the man down—it didn’t sound like that in ’70.

Research helps make your story believable. You want your readers to believe all the lies you’re telling. The way to do that is to mix it with a heavy dose of truth. Bottom line, research your subject, not your writing.

Oh, if you don’t know the answer to the title question—Google it.


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