Cue the Inception soundtrack. How many metatextual layers are on this subject? (Three at the most; I need to stop being dramatic.)
I’m a bit of a connoisseur of writing advice. (Alright, here I am being overdramatic again.) I read, watch, and listen to a lot of it. I believe in it as equally as I believe in having a healthy skepticism of it.
And yes, I say this even as I put my own “writing advice” up on this blog. However, a lot of my “advice” is my perspective on adages that are being thrown around and some are for my own edification. There are answers to these questions: Can I explain my own process? In doing so, can I better said process better?
But this blog post is not about the value of writing writing advice, but about the value reading it. And all that comes from reading it, processing it, and learning from it. This is about what to read, and what is the best way to read, and why.
So, without any further ado...
The first advice of writing advice is… all writing rules are more like guidelines than actual rules. (Yup, Pirates of the Caribbean reference). Creative writing is… just that, creative. It is an artform. Language itself is an evolving thing. Favored forms of storytelling changes over time. There is no rigid formula, format, or checklist that all stories must match or that you must adhere to. Or that you can adhere to for perfect success.
We might call writing rules “best practices but use your judgement” situations. We might call writing rules “you do not have to follow these, but if you aren’t know why you’re not” type of things. What writing rules are not are laws that you will get thrown in prison if you break.
The second advice of writing advice is… Writing advice can come from a lot of sources. Embrace the sources. Read blogs and books. Listen to podcasts. Watch youtube videos. Good advice can come from multiple sources. I do not prestige one format of writing advice over others, because they are all coming from different places and times. A book of writing advice might seem more official, but it might just mean the writer is better connected. A successful indie author might share more about their writing process on a blog or in youtube videos than in a formalized book. Or that the book is just older from a time before the explosion of the internet. On the flipside, just because someone makes a well-edited youtube video does not mean their advice is sound.
No format is inherently more valid than another, it is just the avenue for delivering the information. By opening up to multiple sources, you get perspectives from new talent and old hats, indies and traditionals, and all that jazz.
If fact, I learn a lot about writing novels from watching youtube film critics. Film is a different medium than writing, and it uses different tools and techniques than novels to tell a story, but it still something that tells a story. Analyzing why or why not a story works is very helpful at understanding the structure and impact of stories as a whole. (Just a voice plot hole focused “film criticism” and instead look for stuff with more meat and analysis on the bone.)
The third advice of writing advice is… Don’t follow one person’s advice religiously. Do read writing advice that contradicts. This is a two sides of the coin thing. This builds off the last point of going to multiple sources. Writing is an artform and extremely personal. We all have different methodologies that click for us, or different styles. It is good to get a well-rounded perspective on writing and publishing that are provided on the internet, and through other sources. I am a regular to several writing blogs that have different advice on multiple issues (writing fast, rewriting, and traditional vs. indie publishing for prominent examples). Sometimes they react very different to the current event of the day in the writing/publishing world, and I can learn something valid from both perspectives. Sometimes they even indirectly respond to each other’s points in opposition. I, and you, do not have to take sides, and most of them time they aren’t asking you to. They are just trying to share their perspective and often hard-earned knowledge with you, the reader or watcher. It’s up to you what you do with it.
The fourth advice of writing advice is… Take advice from people who’ve “made it” but define “made it” broadly. Read advice from writers of different walks of life. That means best-selling authors, and midlist authors, traditionally published and indie authors, from your favorite fanfic author, from the authors whose books you read and the person whose books you haven’t. From this genre and that genre. Someone who is consistently writing and producing stories that either get published or find fans… they are onto something.
I say this because a lot aspiring writers will share their perspective, but their perspective is less theirs and more reiterations of the most common pieces of conventional wisdom without much insight or personal touch. Which leads me to...
The fifth advice of writing advice is… Interrogate writing rules of conventional wisdom that are repeated so much they have become meaningless or flanderized.
A good example of this is the adverb adage (cut all adverbs from your writing) that exploded in all directions when some publishing or agent person on twitter said to cut all adverbs and adjectives from your writing completely (like that would make any sense at all.) Of course, in response a lot people come out in defense of adverbs, and ‘in response a lot of people came out in the defense of adverbs’ is one of the stranger sentences I’ve typed in earnestness.
Honestly, to interrogate this advice, and both sides of the argument, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Fact is, -ly adverbs (a specific brand of adverbs) can make awkward reading and generally can either be cut as necessary or replaced with a stronger verb. Stronger verbs often make for stronger writing… but there are tons of potential exceptions to this. (I actually wrote a whole blog post on this particular adverb issue that you can read here). But the particulars of this particular issue isn’t the point. The point is that there is usually some grain of truth that these blanket writing adages come from, but they get a little too repeated without thought put into them, so yeah, interrogate. Do not blindly follow. Heck, maybe not blindly disregard either though.
The sixth advice of writing advice is… no amount of writing advice read can replace the actual practice of writing. Do not fool yourself into think you can accumulate all the knowledge of the how-to of writing that when you sit down to write, suddenly all the words and plotting and character development and thematic resonance will come out perfectly. You wouldn’t imagine that learning about soccer from a book would make you a soccer star without practice; the same principle applies with writing.
The seventh advice of writing advice is… the point of reviewing a diverse amount of writing advice is not to find the Holy Grail that works for all writing, but to continue your writing education and find what works for you.
Those are the good days. The days when you find writing advice that just really works for you. That speaks to you and the way you think. That finally explains a concept you’ve heard explained a hundred different ways before and now it finally clicks. Not the Holy Grail, but your own personal holy grails.
So there we are. My seven pieces of advice for writing advice. Which may be something I’m more qualified for than giving straight writing advice. :P
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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