The surprisingly useful writing advice (that doesn’t actually require alcohol)
There is a lot of writing advice out there.
Write every day at 3 a.m.!
Write on an old typewriter!
Subscribe to this writing class for only $99.95!
Write at least two thousand words a day! (Calm down, Stephen King.)
Buy this expensive notebook for inspiration and then never write in it because it’s too much pressure! (That one’s from me.)
While it’s hard to figure out what’s useful and what’s useless in the world of writing guidance, there is a bit of advice that connects many of the most successful writers in the world:
Write drunk, edit sober.
Yep! This succinct bit of advice (credited to the perpetually-drunk Ernest Hemingway) packs a surprisingly strong double-shot of usefulness, and you don’t actually have to drink a damn thing to use it.
Here, I’ll translate: Write without inhibitions; edit full of them.
When it comes to writing your first draft, just write it. Spit it out. Don’t censor yourself. That voice inside your head that stops you every time you start to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys)—the one that tells you your ideas aren’t good enough, the words aren’t right, a “real writer” would know what to do with all your jumbled ideas—tell that fool to shut up! There is no “real writer,” and there is no perfect first draft.
You can’t turn your ideas into a well-crafted book while they’re still floating around in your head. As V.E. Schwab (author of many wildly successful books Wildling can personally recommend, like Vicious and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue) has said, “You can’t write a book right until you write it wrong.” This means you don’t write a great book--you just write, then you make the book great through editing.
Even Neil Gaiman, one of the most prolific, successful, and imaginative writers of our time, has repeatedly told his fans, “The process of doing your second draft is the process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” It’s only after you’ve spilled all your ideas onto paper that you begin the tough, slow, sometimes sobering work of editing.
Most of your favorite authors, from those we study in school to cult favorites and guilty pleasures, are great at pouring out the first draft with some version of wild abandon, and then editing that mess meticulously--sorting, organizing, rearranging, cutting, and reworking it until it’s the carefully crafted finished piece their readers fawn over. Great writing may read like magic, but it actually took a lot of regular, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, sometimes bad (and yes, sometimes drunk) human work to make it.
So whether you need a swig of good whiskey to help you loosen up or not, just remember: write like there are no rules--save those for the second draft. Stretch your fingers, shake those doubts from your mind, and write with the untethered audacity of a drunk Ernest Hemingway. You won’t regret it.
by Mary-Peyton Crook
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Circe by Madeleine Miller
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
You probably recognize these books, may have even read a few! And so I ask, what do they have in common? Yep, you got it—they’re all retellings of myths. And true! Look at you, smarty-pants—they were all published within the last ten years. So, why is this particular genre of fiction, myth and fairytale retellings, so hot right now?
Well, if you ask us, it all comes down to accessibility and inclusion. These retellings are an opportunity to include those voices and perspectives that were sidelined in the original mythos. They’re often written in a way that’s digestible, certainly more so than the original tales they’re based upon. In fact, you really don’t even need prior knowledge of the original myth to read these books! These retellings are actively filling a major gap in the book world, and that’s why they’re important.
Maybe you’d like to have a go at writing your own retelling. From a publisher’s perspective, here’s our advice to you:
Research, research, research!
Perhaps the source material isn’t totally crucial when reading a mythological retelling, but if you’re writing one, you better brush up! You’ll have to know all the characters and the parts they play to check off the next items on our list.
Find a voice you want to amplify.
We recommend looking for a lesser-known character in the original myth to give you some wiggle room when creating the plot of your retelling, and here’s why. We listed Ariadne at the top of this post, and while the character of Ariadne may not be at the very forefront of classic Greek mythology, she is a relatively well-known character, and therefore, Saint’s retelling ends up staying pretty close to Ariadne’s original tale. If you pick a lesser-known character, though, you’ll have more opportunity to get creative with how that character’s story comes together. To us, that just sounds like a better time for you and for your readers!
Figure out what you want to contribute to the overall narrative.
This is so, so important. After all, if you’re not adding something new and fresh to the conversation, why retell the story? It’s great that you’re exploring the perspective of a character the world hasn’t read much about, but how does that perspective impact the larger narrative of this myth and beyond? How does the perspective you’re highlighting relate to our world now? Answering these questions before you put pen to paper will focus your story and help you find your purpose.
Myths have always appealed to us, and why wouldn’t they? They’re epic tales that touch on questions and issues humans have been dealing with for thousands of years. It’s hard to believe that we’re just now, finally, getting the stories of those human characters—women and people of color—that were glossed over by the “classics.” But here we are. It’s incredibly exciting and long overdue.
And, hey, if you decide to try your hand at writing your own mythological retelling, send it our way. We’d love to see what you’ve come up with.
by Grace Ball
How Do I Book?
We'll try to find the answer to that question in our blog.