I was talking about the writing symposium (See Advice to a New Writer, Part 1) with some of my co-workers at lunch today and one of them asked me, "If you'd been on one of the panels, what advice would you have given to new writers?"

Here's what I told him:

Do not get caught up in the trap of rewriting a story over and over again until it's perfect. Finish a story and get it in front of a reader.  Rewriting one thing over and over MAY teach you how to tell that single story (though it's just as likely you'll ruin it), but your goal should be to improve your overall skill set. 

Your first reader should be someone who likes to read the kinds of things you're writing.  If they don't like the kinds of stories you're trying to tell, their advice will be ineffective at best and maybe even damaging.

Make sure your first reader knows you DO NOT want a critique.  Remember, YOU are the storyteller.  When someone tells you how to fix a story it becomes THEIR story, not yours.  Instead, you want them to approach the story as if they'd come across it in a magazine--right before a story by one of their favorite authors.  They're going to give your story a shot and, if it doesn't hold their attention, they should stop reading--but have them mark where they stopped.  That little bit of information is incredibly valuable.  Especially if you have multiple readers telling you they stopped reading at about the same spot.

If your reader finishes your story, find out what you do well.  Ask them what they enjoyed.  You're not fishing for compliments here, you're looking for areas of competence. If you know what you're good at, you can focus your attention on other things that you'd like to work on for the next story.  Get an over-all impression so that you can practice on the right things that will make you a better writer and storyteller.

If-And-Only-If you agree with the feedback from your reader(s) do you go back and "fix" that story. Otherwise, go on to the next story and start the process over with something different.

In summary, to become a writer; 1) Write something.  2) Finish it.  3) Get it in front of your audience.  4) Learn from their reactions.  5) Start over.

This should sound a little bit like Heinlein's Rules -- and intentionally so.  To become a Professional Writer, Heinlein had it right all along.  For anyone unfamiliar, here they are (slightly paraphrased):

1 - You must write.
2 - You must finish what you write.
3 - You must get the finished product in front of someone who will pay you for it.
4 - ONLY rewrite to editorial direction.
5 - Keep the story "in the mail" until it sells.

That's the advice I'd give a new writer.  And really, it's the only way to become a competent, working professional.
I spent the past weekend at a symposium for writers here in the Salt Lake/Provo area.  It was both a good experience and a very frustrating experience at the same time.

I'm at the point in my writing career where it seems like I've heard the same advice from multiple sources time after time with every one of these workshops or panel discussions I attend.  **This is NOT a bad thing**.  Sometimes it takes hearing something over and over again before I finally have that "ah-ha" moment where I understand exactly how that puzzle piece fits into place.  I had a few really good "ah-has" during the symposium, so I'm calling it a Win.

On the other hand, I also heard some advice that I thought was incredibly bad.  And the advice came from a professionally published writer who should know better.  I will not name names--if you were there, you know who I'm talking about.  If not, the only thing that knowledge would do is make you less likely to trust their advice in the future--and I do believe they have valuable insights yet to make to new writers just coming up in the business.

The advice given was this:  "Don't write cliff-hangers. Readers hate them."

No.  I'm not kidding.

And some of the new, young writers around me took notes on that statement.

I wanted to scream.

The right way to put that should have been:  "As a reader, **I** do not like cliffhangers." followed by an explanation of why and an admission that cliffhangers are a tool that can be used both effectively and ineffectively.

Speaking for myself, I happen to love a good cliffhanger.  I've seen them used poorly and I've also seen them used incredibly well.  When they're done right, they're unbelievably effective.

But please, please, please, don't stunt the growth of anyone who doesn't know better by telling them to ignore a perfectly good tool just because it doesn't happen to fit your preferences as a writer or as a reader.

One other thing I noticed from the new youngsters at the conference.  On many of the panels, a majority of the questions coming from the audience were some variation of: "Is it okay if I <insert variation on a theme here>?"

That was one of the more interesting things for me, from an observer's perspective.  It's like many of the new writers were looking for permission to do something one way or another in their story.

I was only an attendee at the conference -- I didn't know I was going to be in town this past weekend until the week before the symposium -- but had I been on the panels, here's what I would have said:

Yes.  You're a storyteller.  You should feel free to try ANYTHING, just to see if you can get away with it.  You have my permission. Now go and write.

The only exception I can think of right now is that you should refrain from doing anything that would get you sued.  Even then, if you *really* want to risk it, I suppose you can go ahead and tell that story.  But I wouldn't recommend it.
So I won the Writers of the Future Contest.

No, really.  Here's the press release:  


This is cool in unfathomable ways.

And yet, when I've told my non-writer friends about it, I tend to get a raised eyebrow, a few words of encouragement, and perhaps a nod of affirmation.  After that, no one mentions it again.

I don't want to keep sounding my own trumpet or singing my own praises, but I've struggled to get those who haven't heard of WotF to understand exactly what the contest is and what it could possibly mean to my writing career going forward.

At last, I discovered the solution.  A nifty three-part video on YouTube about the contest, the workshop, and all that good stuff that has been so hard to pin down for those who are uninitiated to the ways of WotF.

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure: