On advice, an examined life, and first and last sentences

I’ve been slowly working my way through three books on plotting I borrowed from a friend in pursuit of my new project about the timebus (which as a side note and update is going very slowly and I have about as many characters as a Charles Dickens novel so wish me luck). At the same time I’ve been taking a philosophy course for school and learning about each philosopher’s maxim so it’s fairly natural that both have wormed their way into a lot of my thinking recently.

I wanted to piece out some of the ideas on paper as I have been doing in my mind (to which my Shakespeare-strand charged brain nags me with my memorized monologue from the prologue of Henry V: “Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts”).

Here are my disjointed musings and occasional proposed maxims for today, (which make problems out of a solutions. as one does in the study of philosophy of course, haha.)


Writing advice is helpful in theory and in practice, until it’s not.

Early on in my writing career (I call it “career” for lack of a better word) I devoured writing advice as if I was creatively starved, inhaling books, eternally plugged into a stream of interviews through my earbuds, and was not just religiously but in a cult-like fever stalking authors and their sites. I went through so much advice it all started to sound the same (most of it was). It all sloshed around in my brain 24/7 and when I sat down to write, it was there and tied me to a standard I couldn’t reach. It fostered a pressing passion and a plaguing perfectionism.

A premise here: There are two types of “writing advice” – the TED talk and the practical – and the best type of writing advice melds the two together.

If you lean entirely on the practical you forget within the technicalities, the big picture. Why one writes. What inspired them to pursue it. The power of writing.

On the other hand too much encouragement can turn into vague unhelpful speeches that rely on their eloquence. Here the receiver is set on fire with excitement but gives them no direction or tools to help them, page by page, word by word, tell their story.

The practical should be distributed liberally and at the right places. The encouragement should be fresh and fairly constant. Writing buddies are often carriers of that drive.

That said, ever since my burn out after which I threw all writing advice out the window and just wrote, I am a firm believer in the unparalleled value of hands on experience. There is no greater teacher than just writing a book and figuring out – perhaps the hard way – what does and does not work. Skills will naturally form and mature and develop, right? At least, in my experience (ha). And writing advice does nothing if you don’t ever actually sit down and write.

I suppose a summary would be: writing advice is very helpful digested, but not devoured in maniac obsession. Have people to discuss your writing with, simply write, and when you do read advice, try it out.


First day of class this year, my tutor asked me to write this quote by Plato on the board first day of class so we could all look at it and discuss it. After the discussion I took a picture to remember it by. Also because it look very dramatic (I write in small print on white boards compared to most people I guess haha)

I was talking to a friend about her book and she brought up this quote to highlight the very unexamined life of one of her characters. Later considering it again in the context of writing, I wrote this out:

The process of writing both improves a person’s life and edifies a person’s humanity, as it is a facet of an examined life; or at least the act of writing itself leads naturally to the examining and exploring of life. It also fosters empathy, encourages observation skills concerning other human beings, and gives itself as a mode of thought and expression of self, ideas, and struggles.

It sounds like the start of an essay, but that’s about all I have to say on that subject. πŸ˜†


First Sentence + Last Sentence

The exercises in the books I have been reading have been for the most part interesting. One of them suggested writing your first sentence and last sentence before you write your first draft. The idea was that the first sentence should be fascinating in itself that it should be able to stand alone, and it should be able to tie into the final sentence. And hopefully in there touch on the theme and vibe/mood of the book.

It made me very interested in my first and last sentences of my books over the years. So I decided to hunt them up to see what they are like and how they compare. I’m going to go ahead and include first sentence of prologue too and see how this goes.

Unnamed Fantasy Series Book 1:

First line (prologue): The room was dark and chilly, engulfed in the dank aroma of mildew and burning oil. (a classic example of it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night but please understand I was ~12 when I wrote this)

First line (first chapter): Ethel shifted the heavy bucket in her hand, leaning one way to keep her balance on the steep attic stairs. (despite this being a exceedingly dull first sentence, now that I have a cleaning job I relate to this struggle on a deep level lol)

Last line: Ethel clutched his hand as she choked out her words, β€œEthan! Our parents… didn’t you know? They’re alive!” (welp. there goes that piece of vital information spoiled. sorry peeps.)

Paper Adventures:

First line: It’s a long story. (profound)

Last line: Our paper adventures were over. (thrice-over profound-ness here. this is brilliant? let us state the obvious very melodramatically?)

Beyond the Will (NaNoWriMo 2018)

First line: They had never heard of their Uncle Fred until he died and still their mother would not say much. (I actually still adore this one. This sentence in a blessing from The Muse is what prompted this entire book. But everything about goes downhill from the opening sentence haha.)

Last line: β€œYes,” her mother laughed and smiled. She nodded. β€œYes, it does.” (yes what? you’ll never know. you’re welcome.)

Shard Wings (NaNoWriMo 2019)

First sentence: She was born without wings on a night where the moon was full like glass of silver water. (I’m actually proud of this one too?? also I remember like 3% of what happened in this draft? I started reading it and found myself wondering what would happen next lol. oh the joys of NaNoWriMo)

Last sentence: β€œWait! Wait!” Perloe shrieked. (from what I remember I didn’t actually finish this novel, but literally stopped right at the 50,000 word mark about an hour before December 1st. good times. maybe I’ll return to this one sometime…)

51

First sentence: Any life can change in a second. (we are getting so dramatic here guys)

Last sentence: But above I see it through a broken apartment building: a little dying star is trying to breathe again. (there we go. more with the dramatic lines)

the yet-to-be-officially-named-timebus-story AKA my current project AKA what started me on this

First line was: The coordinates on the card brought him to a broken down bus, expired in a closed junk lot.

First line now: The man must have been mad to truly believe he was going to be killed in fifteen minutes.

Mm. I’m pretty satisfied with that at the current moment.


I’ve also decided that if you want to get to know someone, read their favorite book. I’ve experienced this phenomenon multiple times since my family moved a couple years ago and began asking people what their favorite books are in talking about interests. Turns out they tend to reflect what they value and how they relate to other people. It’s actually really cool.


Speaking of the favorite books of friends, a couple months ago I started reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog because of a friend’s suggestion. I brought it on a babysitting job for when the kids were put to bed, and had just pulled out my phone to take a picture for said friend. When suddenly-

someone who had yet to accept my presence decided he wanted all my attention.

The timing was impeccable.

Every time I stopped petting him or rubbing his head, he began growling and rubbing his nose on my book.

The other cat was inspired.

I didn’t get much reading done that hour. πŸ˜†


What is your opinion on writing advice? Have you ever struggled with getting caught up in it? How do you think writing effects your life? What is the first sentence of your novel? What does it say about your story?

22 thoughts on “On advice, an examined life, and first and last sentences”

  1. I so relate to your thoughts on writing advice. It strengthened my writing and then beat it within an inch of death, and it’s still recovering from being infected by the deadly virus Perfectionism. 😬

    Awww those cats. πŸ˜‚

    I looove reading the first sentences. I went and looked up the progression of Dahop’s Ember’s first sentences and that was interesting. πŸ˜‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The fact I am not the only one with that experience is super encouraging. And also sad? I feel like a traitor to the writing community πŸ˜†

      yOu’Re going to say *that* and not share the sentences?? After alllllll that.
      Hmph. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I can relate to that. πŸ˜†

        Oh dear, I suppose I shall just have to share them then. 😝
        The cringey first scene version: “Hooray! Hooray for Dayetra, the future Alpha of Dahop!”
        The ominous clichΓ© version: “Darkness sank heavily on the Loklab territory that fateful night.”
        The attempt at a deep, philosophical, heart-stirring opening paragraph version: “In the heart of everything good there is a fire.”
        The first official first draft version: “Even the bone moon looked lonely that night.”
        And the most recent version: “As I crouched in the dark with the stench of the eggweed swamp in my nostrils, I wondered if I would someday look back on this moment and wish I had made a different choice. But regret did not turn outcasts into heroes.”

        Like

  2. heyyyy I know that whiteboard πŸ™‚ I totally agree with those thoughts on writing. The best advice I have is to simply keep writing, if you feel rusty or have no ideas just start with a journal prompt or short stories. They might be awful but anything to keep your skills up until you find a project that interests you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I loved your thoughts here!! Yes, writing is the best way to actually learn what you need to learn. You can read all of the writing advice in the world and it still can’t tell you what works for you. The act of writing and failing and succeeding is the most valuable thing as a writer. Experiments with writing is truly the way to learn how to write.
    Oh, the first and last sentences idea is really interesting. I have never thought heard of this before. I should try it (if I remember) when I finish my current novel.
    Oh, I love the idea of reading friends’ favourite books.to get to know them. I’ve heard the same thing with songs. I should definitely try reading their favourite books out of the intentional of learning who they are in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow you said that very well. I am impressed.
      You totally should! It was a lot of fun haha. And I absolutely adore amazing first lines. Sometimes I’ll walk through a bookstore and open books and only read the first line. It’s fascinating.
      That’s very true about songs! I’ve never thought to ask that. And it would be a lot faster than reading a book if you don’t have extra time, haha.
      Thanks for commenting Ribbon. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I did? Thank you! ❀
        ( and I just realised I say "oh" a lot at the beginning of sentences, haha. Do I see "oh" at the beginning of three paragraphs in my last comment? Yes, yes I do. Oh dear. XD)
        No problem! I love replying to your stuff! πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You make some great points here – I love the favourite books friendship idea! In terms of writing inspiration/advice I’ve recently been making use of a C. S. Lewis quotation: “The very essence of our life as conscious beings, all day and every day, consists of something which cannot be communicated except by hints, similes, metaphors, and the use of those emotions (themselves not very important) which are pointers to it”. It reminds me that writing is purposeful and creative endeavour is important, sentiments which encourage me to persist in the face of writers’ block. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes yes YES. I loved what you said about writing advice. I used to read a TON of writing advice, anything I could find about plotting, characters arcs, first chapters, you name it. And yeah, eventually it all sounds the same. AND nothing beats actual experience, ACTUALLY writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that I’m not the only one. I was kinda nervous talking about it because it’s a strange balance and hard to communicate without sounding like a snobby writer who won’t take critique or advice. πŸ˜†

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ACK! I love this. I wholeheartedly agree about writing advice. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful and inspiring and sometimes it’s helpful and inspiring IN THEORY, but are we actually writing anything? Or are we writing under the shadow of the profound advice we’ve been given?? The relationship between the Writer and the Writing Advice is weird.
    I loved reading all your first and last sentences πŸ™‚ The one about Uncle Fred is indeed a thing of beauty. And I love the timebus one.
    The first sentence of my current WIP is (currently) “They were having trouble with the boiler again.” And this tells us…that there is a boiler? (Except I completely forgot about it a few pages in and haven’t mentioned it since…not that I SHOULD be mentioning it all that much, because it’s not really important to the story XD)
    THOSE CATS THOUGH. What a glorious photoshoot. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What relationships do writers NOT complicate, or are not weird?? πŸ˜†
      Writers and plot bunnies… writers and writers block… writers and writing advice.
      We are a strange group.
      Thank you thank you. Poor Uncle Fred though. πŸ˜†
      Okay tho. Now I really want to know who they are?? And what kind of trouble they are having??
      I am strangely very fascinated. XD
      RIGHT
      the cats have blessed me

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved this post and it was very helpful!! Yes we sometimes do get too caught up in advice of others and trying to apply it that it puts us in this box of trying to follow the rules. However, the whole point of writing is to venture outside the box and, to a point, break the rules and create something all our own. The “break the rules” part I wouldn’t use to literally though because we still need to end sentences with periods no matter how unique a story is written. πŸ˜‚ Also I agree, the best way to get to know someone is through their favorite book. My friend Alayna and I have this plan to buy each other our favorite books (or books we enjoyed because we pretty much have already recommended all our favorite books to each other) for our birthdays and personalize them by making little notes through out them. Jot down a note beside a sentence that made you laugh, a chapter that made you cry, a character that reminded you of someone, your favorite parts and why, characters that died and took a part of you with them, your favorite quotes and lines, just EVERYTHING that sticks out to you and you want the other person to know about. I highly recommend this gift idea, it’s very personal, and you get a new book out of it (hard covers are the BESTTTT). Anyway lemme end this before it turns into a whole second blog post haha. Love ya! -C

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Camille thank you for your comment! I love it. πŸ˜†
      Please write a second blog post whenever you want. I’m always interested in hearing your thoughts. ❀
      Wowwww I really really like that idea. Perfect idea of birthday gift — I am going to have to try that too! Actually I might just do that hehe.
      You and Alayna are brilliant.

      Like

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