4 Old-School Online Sources of Advice

Type “writing advice” into Google’s search box, hit the Return key and in a few seconds you’ll be looking at the first page of a list that goes on for “about 284,000,000 results.” That’s a lot of how-to about the writer’s craft.

As an old-school print magazine veteran, I’d like to suggest you monitor the digital offerings of four legacy publications for a while.

First, check out The Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Word Craft” piece. Every Saturday, a different well-known writer contributes an essay on a different aspect of storytelling. Some recent examples: Jeffery Deaver on writing thrillers, Hilary Mantel on historical dialogue and Carol Edgarian on desire as the driving force of fictional characters.

Second, stop in at “Draft,” a blog at The New York Times’ “Opinionator” area. Written by different grammarians, journalists, historians, novelists and others, it covers everything from punctuation to the value of diagramming sentences, Some essays, such as those June 18 and March 26 entries on diagramming, may remind you too much of junior high and high school English classes. But entries such as “Make-or-Break Verbs” (April 16) and “The Pleasures and Perils of the Passive” (April 30) do a fresh job of reviewing the basics of good writing.

Third, venerable monthly The Atlantic comes up with some fine stuff at its website. Click on the “Entertainment” button in the bar atop the homepage, then on the “Books” category on the next page. You’ll find author interviews, interesting articles on book- business trends by publishing veteran Peter Osnos, and classic commandments from famous authors that theatlantic.com co-publishes with a partner site, brainpickings.org. A recent entry was Barnaby Conrad’s “6 Rules for a Great Story, Inspired by Snoopy,” a pickup from the Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life (above), which Conrad edited with “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s son Monte. The book, by the way, is a charming paperback that includes essays from such authors  as the late Ray Bradbury, Thomas McGuane, Sue Grafton and Elmore Leonard.

Fourth, for a steady diet of successful writers’ personal spins on craft tutorials, visit writersdigest.com. A fresh piece (which may or may not be a reprint from the magazine’s archives) seems to pop up on the home page a few times a week. Of particular interest to me recently, following my previous post here (“The Four Horsemen of Storytelling”), was novelist Joshua Henkin’s “Why ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Is the Great Lie of Writing Workshops.”

Finally, I would remiss if I didn’t steer you to local blogs by two of the Fairfield Writers’ Blog’s good friends, Gabi Coatsworth and Sandi Kahn Shelton. Gabi’s “The Write Connexion” now includes author interviews along with her usual information and commentary. Sandi’s “booksnewhaven” turns the spotlight on local authors in a Q&A format.

One warning: Trolling for writing advice online can become a huge time suck. Before you lose yourself and waste irretrievable hours that you should have spent creating new pages of your story, remember to obey my favorite piece of advice from an author’s website. I’ve quoted Laura Lippman here before: “Finish the damn book.” —Alex McNab

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the shout out. I’m going to check these sources – they look interesting.


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