Why Most Writing Advice is Garbage
[In hindsight, that I asked Tony to write this either makes me very wise or kind of a dick. Or both. Yeah, probably both.. nah, really, I\’m still leaning toward dick. — Susie]
A little while back, Susie asked me if I would be interested in writing a post about “why most writing advice is garbage.” At first I thought, “But I write a lot of writing advice.” Then I thought that I read a lot of writing advice. And then I realized that most of it doesn’t really do anything for me.
Here are a few reasons to ignore most of the writing advice you find:
Some writers are better at writing writing advice than they are at writing fiction. When I first began taking my writing seriously, I got on the internet (this was in 1998, mind you) and found a site with tons of great writing advice. (I found it by searching Yahoo.) The author had so much to say, and I found her advice inspiring. I thought that she must certainly be one of the best authors ever, so I picked up one of her books. It was really awful, and I vowed never to read her books or writing advice after that.
Different sources can contradict each other. Stephen King says to write a book from the beginning to the end. James V. Smith says skip around. Chris Baty says get to the end within thirty days. Chuck Wendig says spend as much time as you need to. Who is right? All of them? None of them?
Nobody really follows advice anyway. Have you ever given someone advice before? Most people who ask me for advice end up doing the exact opposite of what I tell them. Maybe it’s because I give them bad advice, or maybe it’s because they know that my advice is not going to work for them. Whatever the reason, they generally just do what they’re going to do. Come to think of it, I generally do the same thing when I ask for advice. Why would writing advice be any different?
Many writers who give writing advice are not any more successful than you are. I’m a great example of this. I have written several articles with recommendations on how to improve your writing, but I have yet to have any fiction published. How do I know what’s good?
If writing advice is so awful, should you just ignore it? Maybe. But maybe not. Here’s my advice on taking writing advice.
Pay attention to what the writers you admire have to say. As a matter of common sense, the authors whose books you like will probably have the best advice on writing books that you can be proud of.
Take writing advice with a grain of salt. (Or a shot of whiskey.) Think about it before you try something. Is it honestly something you will be able to do? Will you actually benefit from it? Or is it just an idea that sounds cool but will waste your time? Ask yourself these questions.
Use what works for you. Ultimately, if you’re in a good groove and like what you’re doing, maybe you don’t need any advice. On the other hand, if you feel like your writing is stagnating, perhaps it will help to seek the mentorship or support of a fellow writer.
Bad advice may not be all that bad, either. if it inspires you or makes you want to write, whether to try it or to prove it wrong, it’s probably worth a try.
Do any readers have advice on taking advice? Please share with the rest of us in the comments. In the mean time, stay motivated and keep writing!