Being the type of person I am, I’ve read a number of books, articles, and blogs with writing advice. I’ve gone to writing meetups, joined appropriate online communities, and sought out interactions with other writers. There’s an avalanche of advice for writers, with great enthusiasm from both the people asking the questions and offering the answers. I think the majority of it should be ignored or at least approached with suspicion.
Take Advice With A Boulder-Sized Grain of Salt
Writers being writers, when they express advice, they’ll naturally punch it up to make it more forceful. They’ll remove the “It’s been my experience,” at the beginning of the advice they offer and turn their experiences into divine pronouncements delivered on clay tablets. When reading advice, we should mentally add back these caveats and take recommendations as humble suggestions that are worth giving a try, which may or may not work for other writers.
For every writing technique that has worked for someone, another writer has tried it out and found it to be a disaster. No matter who is making the recommendation or how forcefully they insist it’s the proper way to write, tentatively try them and evaluate whether or not they work for you.
Advice May Be Wrong And Doesn’t Have To Be Followed
Dan Savage responds to people who get angry at his advice column with “it’s advice, not binding arbitration.” I think of this every time I see a group of writers bickering about the “right way” to write. If someone suggests something that hasn’t worked for you, it’s POSSIBLY worth gently offering that you tried it and it didn’t work for you, but any arguments beyond that are a waste of everyone’s time.
I was in a writers’ group and one of the writers had read his current work in progress. He had a simile, that I mentioned didn’t make sense to me, and suggested he consider reworking it. What followed was a five-minute debate after another member defended the simile with the writer getting increasingly offended. It really didn’t matter to me, he could have just nodded his head, ignored my suggestion, and we could have carried on with feedback on his work.
It’s like arguing about what the best ice cream flavor is.
Sometimes you’ll literally get conflicting advice that is completely opposite to other advice and it’s impossible to follow them both. Plotters are writers that plan out their book. Pantsers are writers that write as they go. Most writers are one or the other, and many of them will insist that their approach is the right way.
Rather than arguing, individual writers should try both suggestions, then stick with whichever they find more productive. PERHAPS it’s worth revisiting it periodically, try your non-favored approach and re-evaluate. Perhaps not.
Once at an academic conference, after my talk, a professor said that I needed to discuss the field as a whole and situate my work within it. Another professor, immediately after this, suggested that I need to get more specific and drill down precisely what my work was, how I’d done it, and what its exact contribution was. It was a ten-minute talk and their suggestions were completely opposed to one another. It would be impossible to follow them both.
Advice For The Wrong Stage In Your Career
It’s common advice that you’re a fool if you don’t get your work expertly edited and pay for a professional cover.
At a VERY early stage of a writer’s career, they’re probably better served to post their unedited work without a cover than investing money in everything they produce. Many professional writers will maintain a blog, which they certainly aren’t having each post professionally edited.
Many genre writers have written for different sub-genres, found success with one in particular, and eventually hit on a work that connected with an audience, and built a successful series out of it. Some of these writers will then advise newbie writers not to waste their time writing in different genres, or different works, and to put their entire focus on writing a series as their first work. They ignore the exploration element of this: that writing in the different styles helped them find their audience which is what allowed them to write the successful series.
Seek out and take advice if you want to, but always keep in mind that what works for one writer may or may not work for you.