What I learned about writing from Terrible Minds

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A few years ago, I somehow stumbled on Terrible Minds, a blog by bestselling author Chuck Wendig in which he shared writing-related wisdom and featured guest posts for other authors to share their reflections. These days, Wendig has shifted his focus to more personal and sometimes political topics, which are still very much worth following.(1) But there are some writing-related posts of his that I still go back to from time to time. I thought I would share them here. Obviously, this advice is most applicable to creative writing and fiction writing but some of his thoughts and ideas have also resonated for me with my scholarly and professional writing as well.

“In Which I Critique a Story (That I Haven’t Read)”: In this post, Wendig shares an outline for what a story should look like, staring with “Hey look, a problem,” and proceeding through “oh god I made it worse” and “somebody else is making it worse now too” and ending with a velociraptor and a flashlight and mouth herpes. This may not sound particularly useful but I’ve used this outline many times in my own writing projects and it’s kind of amazing how well the different steps Wendig names can bring a story into focus, even when they’re not a perfect fit.

“100 Random Storytelling Tips, Starting Now”: This is probably one of the first posts I read on Terrible Minds and tip #69 (…of all the tips), which reads, in part, “If you’re having trouble with the story, switch from one POV to another” singlehandedly revived a creative writing project I’d been stalled on for quite a while. While this project, which I did eventually finish, was more of a “practice novel” than anything else, getting excited about it again is what led me to create a more productive writing habit for myself for the last few years.

“Setting Free the Sacred Cows of Writing Advice”: The thing about Wendig’s blog is that he’s just as likely to give writing advice as he is to write a takedown of common writing advice. This is a post in which he critiques some of the more familiar chestnuts like “show, don’t tell” and “exposition is bad.” The one of most interest to me is “write what you know” since this relates so closely to the role of research in creative writing. Wendig talks about research in quite a few places in his blog, but I think connecting it to “write what you know” makes it that much more meaningful.

“In Writing, the Rules are True Until They’re Not”: Similar to the above in theme, this post features a quote that I now have hanging on my office wall: “We learn the rules in order to break them, and we break them in order to learn why we needed those rules in the first place.” I’ve used this quote in some of my presentations to help explain why teaching about genres (when it comes to research) isn’t a bad thing even though some feel that it could limit creativity. A few years ago at the ACRL Conference, someone in the audience actually recognized the quote and where it came from, which is one of my favorite memories about that experience.

Ilana C. Meyer: “When Do You Stop Researching and Start Writing?”: Like I said research comes up a lot on this blog. Wendig himself talks about it, as do many of the authors who write guest posts. In fact, noticing how often these authors talk about research is what sparked my interest in investigating the role of research in creative writing in the first place. There seem to be a lot of questions among writers about where in the writing process research “belongs.” Here, Ilana C. Meyer offers an interesting reflection on the ways in which research and writing are intertwined.


Like I said, Wendig has turned his attention to other topics these days but all of these posts are ones that I’ve enjoyed and that have had meaning to me as a writer, so I wanted to share them here. If you’re not familiar with Wendig’s work, he’s definitely worth following and he has tons more writing advice to dig through in his blog archives.


(1) Meanwhile, he also has a great book of storytelling advice called Damn Fine Story that I highly recommend.

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