The Perils of Writing Advice

[Taken from my Koobug blog]

My Favorite thing on Twitter might be #HorribleWriteTip, mostly because it balances out all the “real” advice authors throw around.  Some of the best: “It’s important that you mention in your query that you think you’re the next Stephen King” and “If a scene is difficult to describe, it’s ok to include a stick figure drawing.”

Now, I’m not a perfect writer.  I don’t think anyone is. Some advice is good, sound, noteworthy, and needed.  However, I think we too often spout off advice without taking into account that the same things don’t work for everybody.  And some of us are bad writers – if you aren’t good, please don’t tell me how to follow your method.  I try not to be an educated, elitist snob, but some advice runs counter to what I’ve been taught and just flat out seems like a bad idea.  Or, some advice channeled from reputable authors is only half-understood and pumped out as a quick one-liner while missing the depth of the point (see “Great Advice from Great Writers” by a fellow Koobug blogger).  Some new writers who’ve just picked up the pen within the past few years only seem to understand the eBook revolution and the ways THAT has changed readers, and they brush aside a glorious tradition and variety of writing styles that is lost on them (more on that in a future blog post).

I’ve befriended some authors who do this to me (well, not me directly, but it pains me to read blurbs of advice on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.).  I know most everyone is well-meaning when they give advice.  But I really think we need to take a minute and be less sure of ourselves.  Mostly, I think we need to stop insisting that we’re right about things like:

  • “Write two pages every day” (that’s not how I or many others work creatively)
  • “Make sure your characters are interesting” (no kidding)
  • “Don’t use a prologue, fit it into your story” (maybe YOU just aren’t using prologues correctly?)

So what do I think is good advice? I really do love Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” I think those are good templates for how to style any advice you give. The first gives good technical ideas for writing while also staying grounded in his own experience, giving examples of how things work for him rather than insisting it’s the only way, for the most part.  The second gives excellent advice for how to stay sane as a writer, again pointing out what works for her as she uses her experiences to find her voice.

There ARE writers out there who I think have attained the right to give out useful advice – I don’t only mean bestselling authors – but I think it’s key to recognize that there is no absolute authority on how to do this.  I’m certainly not one, and you’re probably not either.  So, if you give advice, please offer it up in the context of how something works FOR YOU.  The more we try to fit everyone into the same writing molds, the less flavorful reading is going to be.

And for the love of all that’s holy, please remember, “Italics are too subtle for most readers, instead CAPSLOCK EVERYTHING IMPORTANT”  😉

5 thoughts on “The Perils of Writing Advice

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  1. Reblogged this on The Writing Catalog and commented:
    I agree that it is important to emphasize when you give writing advice that you are talking about what works for you. As I have stated here in the past, I believe that everyone has to find a process that works for them. There are writing principles that are widely applicable, but there is no such thing as a one-size fits all way of writing.
    I am skipping the Zero to Hero assignment today, for the simple reason that I am happy with my background header images. I put a lot of thought into them when I set these blogs up. The Z2H post for today does have some useful stuff links, though.

  2. I just read an excellent book on fiction, but one of the nuggets of advice was that every main character must be wounded by some past issue so that readers can relate. But I really find those wounded books to be bummers!

    I’ll have to check out Lamott’s book. You’re the second person to recommend it in a week.

      1. I’m now halfway through Bird by Bird, and I see what you mean about the mental health reassurance. She is such a neurotic nut, but I love her to pieces for it. Now I have to read all her other stuff.

        Have you seen the interview that she did with Stephen Colbert? It’s from 2008, I think. Hilarious.

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