Best Advice Ever

Scratch a writing community you will find thread after thread of people asking for the best advice you ever received on writing. I do not always contribute, but when I do I usually refer to Chuck Wendig’s suggestion that writers should finish shit; and my ratio of finished published works to unfinished published works would indicate it is key to my strategy. However, the most valuable advice I actually received was on the use of hair care products.

Several years ago Neil Gaiman was asked what the best advice he had received from another author was. He replied with a story about Clive Barker suggesting rubbing conditioner on stubble before shaving would produce a better result. Then stepped back from his joke, to give advice he had received on writing.

Neil Gaiman's Hand
Listen to the hand, cos the face ain’t talking
(©Neil Gaiman for Shared Worlds – used with permission)

Although the advice he went on to re-share was sound, I think his first answer might be more valid. Like Barker and Gaiman, I have virile manly bristles. Since I started rubbing a little conditioner on them before shaving I have had a quicker shave with less irritation afterwards.

On the surface, this is not relevant to writing. But, I shave daily so even a small reduction in time spent gives me a significant amount of time over a year that can be spent either on writing, or even used to fit shaving into a narrow slot where I would not write anyway.

While reduced skin irritation does not add time to my schedule, with my productivity proportional to my immersion, it makes the time I have more productive.

Of course, Barker’s suggestion gives no benefit to people with finer bristles or who do not shave at all.

From which, I suggest two lessons:

  • limiting your advice to people in your field, talking explicitly about your field, misses the massive potential to find synergies.

  • the most helpful advice ever still only works if there is an analogous issue.

What advice has most helped you with writing? What is the most unusual reapplication of advice you have discovered?


4 thoughts on “Best Advice Ever

  1. Most of what I apply to my writing I learned from doing building maintenance. My core philosophy runs counter to the “word count is king” school of writing.

    “It’s easier in the long run to do it right the first time.”

    Does someone who types out a thousand words and then has to go back and delete three quarters of them in a rewrite actually have any advantage over someone who writes 250 words that end up in the final manuscript? I don’t think so.

    I’m not saying that people who aim for a massive word count and then plan on doing an extensive revision later are wrong, but I don’t think that they have the one right way, either.


    1. Exactly.

      One issue with much of the writing advice out there is it is too focused on steps: this will make drafting faster; that is a good way to edit.

      I prefer to consider the overall process of producing a finished work.


  2. I love that advice from Neil Gaiman. The thing that kept me going was Hemmingway’s “the first draft of anything is s**t.” It made me feel so much better.
    I wrote a blog a short while ago about how to be a more productive writer. Lots of people had their own favourites but mine was to do any outstanding chores before writing, because you have no idea how attractive cleaning a toilet can seem when you’re struggling with a first draft.


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