Writing Advice is Bullshit, here’s why.

The other week I read an article written by a Daily Beast contributor that started with the title: If You Want to Write a Book, Write Everyday or Quit Now.  A clickbait title if I ever read one but okay, I’ll bite. I’m always game for new points of view, so I read it. Like a lot of writing advice it had good points, and questionable points, and I came out of reading the article with the realization that most writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Why?

A few reasons. Not the least of which is, writers (particularly of fiction) are really good at bullshit. It’s what we do. If there is one thing we understand very well, it is how to bullshit, and draw things out, and some of us, if we’re so inclined, can even make a simple one sentence concept into pages and pages of bullshit. Throughout high school and college, I was the envy of many when it came to essays because 500+ words is a cakewalk when 490 of them are basically rephrasing the topic at hand, and filling the rest with marshmallow level fluff.

There’s a certain poetry in our bullshit at times, I confess. Why write that the sky was dark when you can explain that the sky was a stormy slate grey, then proceed to wax poetic for a few paragraphs or so about Mississippi rainstorms in June. It may not necessarily tell the reader much about the plot, but it gives you a greater feel for the world, and the time in which the story takes place.

This is all well and good in fiction, but in writing advice it tends to be a little more blatant. As in the article above. The author specifically notes that writing everyday is metaphorical (except that it kind of isn’t?) and yet, he needn’t have bothered because it was pretty obvious that they were trying to make a dramatic point with the title.

I’m not opposed to the theory of writing everyday, necessarily. I think you should definitely write as much as possible, but these ‘rules’ that some authors try to lay down strike me as arbitrary and more often than not conflict with one another to the point you have to ask yourself, who’s right? Whose advice do I trust more?

Some say write everyday, some say a draft should only take 3 months, these are good notes, but I’ve had drafts take roughly 3 months and some take 5-6 (depending on how much time I can afford to dedicate to them). It doesn’t help that I don’t keep any kind of accurate track on how long something takes me from start to finish, so honestly it would be disingenuous of me to say I even knew how long the average book draft takes me.

I whole heartedly agree that writing must be taken seriously if it is something you want to do, seriously, but what I’ve come to learn after years of writing and years of reading advice and thought pieces on the subject of writing is, the best advice anyone can give you is to take advice with a grain of salt. Not everything is going to work for you, not everything makes sense for what you want to write. If you write romance, advice on how to write a mystery probably isn’t going to apply. Take what works, and what seems sensible, and then decide for yourself. Challenge your worldview, if you so wish, but don’t just accept a piece of advice as gospel simply because the person who wrote it is an author you admire or someone who claims to be an ‘expert’. Trust yourself, you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for. At the end of the day, all the advice in the world will never compare to taking action and starting your story, and getting to work. There’s no better learning experience than just doing it.

The Best Advice

days5 copyAnd also the most obvious:

Always have a second pair of eyes to read your novel.

Plain and simple. And also pretty obvious. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, you’ll have a professional editor helping you wherever you need it. But when you’re self publishing, you may not necessarily have a professional editor to assist you, unless you happen to be good friends with one. If at all monetarily possible, hire a professional because no matter how much self editing you do, there’s nothing like someone else’s eyes to show you something you might not have realized was a problem. I say this out of experience.CC copy

When I was younger, I always had my mother read my stories, luckily for me, she was wiling to tell me when something didn’t work or didn’t quite sound right and it’s been beneficial to me to be able to have someone else to look at my work. It’s basically, you can’t see the forest through the tree’s. More often than not, the more time you spend reading something the more likely you are to miss what could seem very obvious to someone who didn’t write it. As I reach the end of my personal edits (almost on chapter 20) I’m starting to get what I like to call, editing highway hypnosis. You know when you’re driving on the freeway for a long time and everything sort of just goes by in a blur. You got home but you don’t really remember how because you were on auto-pilot. I know for a fact that I’m currently on chapter 19, but I also know that I don’t remember editing three or four chapters somewhere in between eight and nineteen. It’s sort of nerve wracking not being able to remember what you edited and what if anything was changed, and it really makes me glad that number one I printed everything out and edited it that way so there’s still a chance for me to get a third revision in when I put it into the computer but number two that I’ll have a second pair of eyes checking this over very soon.