Writing Advice from C.L. Stone

Ever seen an interview happen in reverse? Or inside-out? I think that’s what’s about to happen here.

C.L. Stone is an indie author with a few published works to her name. She has built up a loyal following and is having success with her ACADEMY series. A month ago, she released her latest novel, and it shot up into the top 300 on Amazon. That’s no mean feat. She posted a thread on KBoards’ Writers’ Cafe about the launch, and then she posted two follow-ups full of writing advice.

I was struck by how concisely Stone outlined so many truths that I feel to be true but don’t get stressed enough. I nodded and uttered “Amen” throughout the posts. And so I reached out to C.L. to see if she would mind my posting her gems here along with my own wordy and less astute observations. Like an interview in reverse. You can save some time by reading her lines in quotes and ignoring what I have to say altogether. Check out C.L.’s first book here (it’s FREE). This is a link to her newest release, which is still going strong.

Write a million words. Your first million is practice.

This is so difficult to appreciate and even harder to do. Writing a novel is such a brutal undertaking, something we dream about but put off for years and years, that when we finally succeed, to say that this was nothing more than “practice” is heart-rending. I told myself that I would write for ten years before I expected any sort of success or to write anything worth reading. That would be 20 or 30 novels. A long view like this helps you settle into becoming a writer rather than rushing the process and becoming disappointed or disillusioned.

When you’ve finished one book, write the next one.

Amen. My father used to ask me why I wasn’t promoting my first book more. As a loving parent and someone with strong work ethics, he thought I should be out doing more for the book. I told him I wanted to keep writing while I had it in me, that I had the rest of my life to promote that work. The next book is what we should be thinking about, first and foremost.

Write the thing you love, and it becomes much easier and your readers will love it, too.

C.L. is battering us with the truth. One thousand times, this. Feel your story bursting out of your chest, begging to be told, full of mystery and majesty, a hidden present in your mind that you can’t wait to unwrap.

Don’t read in your genre. Read other books.

I thought I was the only one who felt this, but it’s true. Having read in your genre is no bad thing, but don’t do it while you’re writing. It’ll close you off to things that are already being done or make you write like someone else. If you write romance, read biographies of people living in romantic times. If you write science fiction, read mysteries and thrillers to learn how to inject some of both into your work. I mostly read non-fiction, as it gets me thinking. The ideas that go into my stories end up more my own. And I write books that no publisher would touch, because nothing is being done like it anywhere. This is a good thing. Don’t ignore the power of ignorance.

Know everything about your characters and love them. If you love them, readers will, too.

Preach it, sister! If you believe your characters are real, and if you truly know them and love them, you will write characters that jump off the page. You have to ask yourself about them as if you’re going to date them yourself. As if you’re going to convince some immigrations officer that you really do want to marry and you know every detail about this person. What kinds of relationships have they been in? Who is the closest person that they lost? What do they carry in their pockets? What do their parents do for a living? How did this influence them?

None of this has to go into the novel, but you need to know it. Give your characters scars and stories behind those scars. Give them hobbies and passions, and think about how this will affect the way they see the world.

You have to know the writing rules and then know when to break a few of those rules.

Yes. Don’t be afraid of -ly and -ing words. Don’t be afraid of “be” verbs and the passive voice (and learn that the former is not always the latter). Feel free to head-hop, to change tenses between chapters, to do what the story needs. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the rules or flaunt them just to flaunt them, it means you need to be true to the story and be clear to the reader.

Don’t be afraid to write anything. Don’t worry about what the world will think or if some people might not like this. Write what you would love to read.

How in the hell is one writer able to cut through all the B.S. and give us everything we need to know in just a handful of sentences? It’s eerie. I wonder if this is Robert Galbraith writing as someone else. What C.L. (if that’s your real initials) is saying here really resonates with me. Several times in my brief writing career, I’ve ignored what would have been logical to write and wrote what I wanted to read. It has also helped me as my audience has grown. Having eyeballs trained on you can make you freeze up or second-guess yourself. Don’t. Write what you want to read. Pretend you have an audience of one.

Write big. Write a series. It can be loosely connected based on an area (Debbie Macomber) or a series of one big book (Lord of the Rings). Don’t give them one thing to love. Give them reasons to come back. You want to build the ongoing relationship, not a one off fling.

Agreed. Leave room for your stories to grow. One thing I would add to this, however, is that you shouldn’t get trapped writing in one series over and over. That leaves you promoting your first book with each release. Write several stories and follow the one that grabs you the most. And wrap up your stories in a finite time, even if you go on to write books in that same world with new or less prominent characters.

For me, I gave the first away free. The readers who read it really liked it and picked up the other books in the series.

Sounds familiar. Trust in the reader often goes rewarded. I don’t want someone to pay for a work they don’t enjoy. Try it. Let’s have a relationship only if you like it. This does not devalue literature; it values the reader.

The most important part is the writing! You may not connect with everyone, not everyone will understand you, but those that do will love you for it. That’s just how it works.

C.L. final point in her second post is the real key. You have to write. That might mean neglecting other things you’d enjoy doing. Those things will understand. Tomorrow, NaNoWriMo kicks off, which means a month of me neglecting emails and FB messages and Tweets. It means brutal and early mornings of writing so I can continue to fulfill obligations while on the road. But if I’m successful, by November 30th, I’ll have another rough draft in my hands. One more book written. More practice, more of what I love doing, more characters I care about, and the bones for a future release in a new genre that maybe one or two people will enjoy.

Thanks for the advice, C.L.! Best of luck to you and to all the other happy writers out there.

17 responses to “Writing Advice from C.L. Stone”

  1. I’ve been writing for 2 years and 10 months now (around 3 hours per day, 7 days per week, with just brief breaks). Four drafts of two novels each = 986,000 words. Three or four short stories = another 14,000 words.

    I’m almost there!

    I haven’t pushed the “publish” button so my opinion , but I complete agree with this advice. Every now and then I go back and touch work I did 6 or 12 months ago and can’t believe how bad it is. …which is to say, I can’t believe how much my standards have increased and my skills have improved over the last 250,000 words.

    Real estate is location, location, location.

    Writing is practice, practice, practice.

  2. I agree this is great advice. However, I often have trouble with the “don’t be afraid to write anything” part. While I feel I’m a very well-adjusted person and not going on an interstate crime spree anytime soon, a lot of what I write slants toward the more bizarre and weird. This can include some violent and even grotesque scenes. I find myself stopping in the middle of writing sometimes and saying to myself, “My mother could never read this and no one I know would ever talk to me again if this was published.” While I do enjoy reading works like this and know others do too, I feel I’m too “normal” to gain a reputation for this type of writing style. So absent using a pen name and staying anonymous, I either have to power through these misgivings or risk holding myself back.

    1. Don’t hold back. If it is something that the character would do, and is LOGICAL for him to do it (front part of the brain), then have him do it. So some readers will be scared. So what? Others like me will love it. There are legions of us…more of US than THEM!

  3. I cannot stress enough just how much I needed to read this today. Thank you for posting this and thanks to C.L. for her great advice.

  4. “Your first million is practice.”

    I always tell my kids, “Almost anything can be done well, if you continue to practice.” I say “almost” because once my daughter tried to dunk a basketball and I heard her say, “I just need to practice more.” Sorry sweetheart, you’ll never be tall enough to dunk, not with our genes.

    Lately, I’ve taken to writing a ton of short stories and posting them on my blog. To me, this is practice, and it gives me a sense of what works and what doesn’t with the feedback I’ve received. I write in different tones, genres, using different POVs, and a ton of other techniques just to stretch my muscles. Some don’t make it because I just don’t feel it…and I guess that’s good practice too. Knowing when to drop something because it feels completely wrong…that took a while to learn. I don’t get as frustrated as I used to when I abandon a project, because I just start off another or work on something in the queue.

    And there is always something in the queue. Even THAT took practice!

  5. As of right now I will stop feeling guilty for not reading my genre. Thank you and C.L. for setting me free.

  6. Word by word. I wrote (and rewrote) novels for twenty years before I published the first one. I’m now reworking a number of short stories to put out there. Some of them quite wacky. Some people will love them, and some will say, “WTF?”

    Last night a few minutes after midnight I started that dystopian series I mentioned at the Watertown Library event… the one that makes strong men cross their legs and women gasp. I seem to want to tell that story, so here goes!

    Thanks for shining a light on this great advice, Hugh.

    1. You’re welcome. And I sent you that thing to beta read. Did you get it? Your silence makes me wonder if I should scrap it and rewrite the whole thing. :)

  7. Great advice Hugh and a big thanks to C. L. for being so articulate and brief while giving such deep meaning mantras. But more than anything I loved the second one

    “When you finished the first book. Write the next one”

    Often we hear that success lies in publicity and promotions and to some extent it is true. But personally I feel that creativity is a strange emotion. One can’t produce it at a moment’s notice so do tap into it while the fount is flowing.

  8. Thanks Hugh! And thanks, everyone. It’s heartwarming to feel that connection with other writers, who are sometimes the only ones who understand this *crazy* life and that obsession. I wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. It just gets way more exciting the deeper down into this rabbit hole you venture.

    Absolutely loved the thought out explanations. I’ll be sharing this with my writer buddies. Thanks!

  9. […] Howey: Writing Advice from C.L. Stone. “Ever seen an interview happen in reverse? Or inside-out? I think that’s what’s about to […]

  10. A perfectly timed post, Hugh et al. Thanks y’all. I’m participating in Nano this year. Finally. I’ve been procrastinating for years. Mid ’00s? Anyway, needed to read this tonight. Empty tank. Fuel. Hugh inspired me to pull up my bootstraps, plant my butt in a chair . . . and participate. I borrowed the straps [end stop insert]

  11. […] Writing Advice from C.L. Stone | Hugh Howey […]

  12. For the past several months, I’ve taken “Don’t be afraid to write anything” as a bit of a mantra. Especially with this new book, the sequel to my first, Martuk … the Holy, there have been a lot of time — A LOT of times — where I’ve stopped, doubted myself, worried what the world would think (and by “world” I mean the dozen or so that presently comprise my readership) and then thought, ‘Eh, screw it’ and wrote what I wanted.

    Some may be offended, some might get angry, others perhaps will appreciate how these potentially salacious, controversial events drive the narrative and enhance the intensity of the read. But by not being afraid to write anything and, therefore, allowing your creativity and imagination the freedom to create what it wants, you’re giving those who will appreciate what you’ve written the gift of a truly memorable read.

    And isn’t that what we’re all after? :)

  13. This has really helped out in the ways of my writing, upon reading this it has really opened my eyes to how the content I’m reading can effect the literature I’m writing.
    It had been an ongoing struggle with myself to how a book will play out and if people will like it. Thank you for pointing out that as long as I love it, it’s worth the time. I won’t let a bunch of other people sway major choices and decisions.
    It also makes me realize that every book I don’t finish writing should be saved for a later time, and not thrown away because of a case of writers block.

  14. […] just added a new testimonial from my latest client. She found me after reading Writing Advice from C. L. Stone posted by Hugh Howey. She self-published her first book, a young adult novel, that is part of a […]

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