Thursday, August 7, 2014

Horrible Writing Advice

You might have seen Anne Rice's Facebook post earlier this year on the worst writing advice she’s received.
I don’t necessarily agree with what she disagrees with. For example, I do think writing success has a lot more to do with hard work than talent. However, I think she’s completely right in the idea that you need to figure out what advice works for you and realize that some advice can actually hurt you. For me, thinking that I don’t have to have “talent,” I just need to work hard and keep improving, motivates me. Obviously, it didn’t help her, so it’s good she disregards it. 

One piece of advice that gnaws at me is the idea that you have to write every day. While I do something writing related every day (I can’t help myself! :) ) I don’t always create chunks of fresh new content. For example, two weekends ago, I spent most of the weekend editing one of my books. But I didn’t write a scrap of new material.

I feel really bad about this. I’m often stressed out about what it says about me as a writer and what it means about my future career. If I can’t even make myself sit down and write new words for ten minutes every day, what kind of writer am I!? 

But maybe that’s just destructive thinking? Maybe that pressure actually gets in the way. I think “you must write every day,” and it becomes a chore, which I then petulantly avoid. So, maybe I need to start ignoring that advice and let go a little.

What about you? Is there any writing advice that you’ve found just doesn’t work for you?

Dan: There is no gospel when it comes to writing. There are good practices, of course, but no right answer. I have mixed feelings on the idea that writers should write every day. On one hand, some elements of successful writing (like editing) aren't truly writing, but still need to get done. On the other hand, it's a slippery slope down to the point where you're always doing something related to writing, but never writing anything new. I know some aspiring authors who are career outliners. They haven't finished one novel yet, but they're confident that with this new outlining method, the writing part will be easy!

My other reaction on the topic of writing advice is this: not everything you hear will apply to you. This is especially true for advice you read from long-established bestselling authors. Are they successful? Yes. Have they ever written an e-query? Probably not, because they were querying 20 years ago. An established author with a big name is obviously doing something right, but he or she may be out of touch with the obstacles (like landing an agent) that a new writer faces today. In my opinion, it's important to learn from people who are ahead of you (in terms of career progress) but not too far ahead. Which is why I listen to Caitlin.

One of the worst bits of advice I've heard came from some long-established sci-fi author; I can't remember which one. He said that he never edits unless he's already sold a book or story, because he's not "being paid" for it. See what I mean about being out of touch?

Karlie: The worst piece of writing advice I've ever received...hmm. For me personally, it would have to be, "Don't edit the first draft at all. Just get it on paper. Don't look back, don't start over." I know this works for a lot of people. but I simply can't work that way. The one and only novel I followed this advice for is gathering dust on my hard drive, and it will never see the light of day again.

I need to feel my way along that story, start over a few times, go back and change, until finally a vision emerges. Often my first finished draft is the last one except for line edits and such.

I've been told this so much I tried really hard to do it that way...but it was impossible. The thing was, I began to look at it like a rule. And honestly? If you confine yourself to those hardcore "rules" then you might be slamming the door on your creativity. I'm not saying the experts don't know what they're talking about - they do, or they wouldn't be where they are now. But only you know what makes you don't be afraid to step out of the box.

Lisa: I'm with you on the editing as you write, Karlie. I don't see it as editing though; it's simply knowing the sentence/word you just wrote was wonky and reworking it right then instead of waiting until later and you have no idea what you were trying to say. (Yes, I realize that's a very long sentence, butIlikeit.)
So to answer your question, Caitlin, probably the worst advice was from my college professor who said that writing in present tense isn't proper. That advice is funny when you think of the advice my mother's English teacher gave her: fiction writing isn't "real" writing. I think the worst advice probably comes from generational close-mindedness.

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