Good advice I can’t seem to follow

I love lists of helpful advice, from ‘Five warning signs that you’re not as healthy as you should be’ to ‘Ten ways to save ten minutes’. Tips for writers are just as enthusiastically devoured. It’s just a shame I don’t put them into practice. Here’s a list of my own:

8 pieces of good advice I can’t seem to follow.

1a Plot thoroughly

There are whole books about different methods of plotting, with wheels and fishbones and storyboards and string theory. They’re clearly all utterly brilliant. But I will never manage more than a scribble on the back of an electricity bill (must remember to switch to online). For me, rigorous plotting falls into the same category as knowing that if I filed all my receipts I could make a sensible attempt at my tax return.

Conclusion: Knowing and doing are two entirely different verbs.

1b Plot mindfully

Tony Bradman’s three-point guide seems more achievable.

  • If I have a strong character and a clear idea of his/her goal it should be straightforward.
  • I must resist the urge to give away too much.
  • I must study plots on telly.

Conclusion: The third point is definitely doable.

2 Writing a minimum number of words each day

I tried this for ten days and duly typed the required amount every day (and no more). Excellent. The feeling of achievement was very pleasant. Unfortunately the words were very mediocre.

Conclusion: Quantity had replaced quality.

3 Morning pages

We had to do this for one of the modules on the Creative Writing diploma I took at the University of Bristol. I treated it like an onerous task. I don’t want to write whatever comes to mind. I want to write the next bit of whatever I’m working on.

Conclusion: I sometimes have an attitude problem.

4 Set times of day

Most people who work have a set time to start and finish and a gap in between, as I understand it. If (a large word with two letters) I was in charge, this is something I would consider. The set times would be eight o’clock in the morning, with a huge cup of tea, until eleven, with a gap for a second cup and also porridge.

Unfortunately for my writing, but fortunately for my joie de vivre, I the other people and animals I live with interfere with the idea.

Conclusion: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5 Stripping out adjectives

Evidently too many adjectives are the sign of a novice writer. Pare them! Bare them! Oh dear, I like adjectives. The page I’m writing includes: small, huge, nicer, big, brown, caramel (in a non-noun sense), soft, great, big (again), weird. I particularly like uber (without the umlauts). I have never used the word mellifluous.

Conclusion: My adjectives, on inspection, are very Key Stage 1.

6 Show not tell

Here we go – the mantra. I get it, really I do. But every so often I fancy a bit of telling.

Conclusion: I don’t care.

7 Throw away the sentence you’re most proud of


Conclusion: The advice of a saboteur.

8 Never think about the story when you’re not working

. . . if you think about it consciously and worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” Ernest Hemingway

Conclusion: I have a very tired brain. Too tired to address the issue of not thinking about the thing I shouldn’t be thinking of.

Please, all list-makers, keep them coming. Advice for school visits, edgy presents for edgy people, writer’s block, stress-free cooking for guests, all welcome, because in between the gems I rail against are those that I adopt with gusto, wondering how I ever functioned without that wise word in my ready-to-listen ear.