Have you noticed that everyone wants to tell you what to do all the time? The Internet is chock-full of advice on every imaginable topic every day. New studies are released weekly telling us what we should eat (and not eat) in order to ensure optimal health and ultimate immortality. Do you suffer from aches and pains? Hiccups? Knock knees? Dozens of experts want to tell you what to do so solve your problems. And people eat this stuff up. Based on my news feeds, our collective appetite for advice appears insatiable.
But what about writing advice?
Over the years, I've learned a great deal about craft, marketing, and publishing by attending workshops and reading articles. Some of the presenters' advice has been invaluable, but some has seemed repetitive, obvious, or simply not for me. I've been told I must be on every social media platform I can find. I've also been advised to choose only the ones I enjoy. I've been told to spend half my time writing and half my time marketing. Some authorities say write only the stories of your heart, while others say ignore the market at your peril.
We get the same conflicting advice about writing craft issues. Editors have pet peeves they impose on their writers. So do some agents. I'll never feel the same about the word "that" after working with my first editor. Some writers and editors are very strict about POV. Others take a more relaxed approach. Some slash all adverbs; others are more lenient.
I recently read a mildly paranormal/ghost love story written by a new writer friend. Finishing that short book was a painful slog. I had to force myself to read past the first chapter because she broke every single rule I had ever been taught. Yet this book had been contracted, edited, and published by a professional publisher (albeit a very small one). She has 20 5-star reviews on Amazon. For all I know, those may be from family and friends, but they still gave me pause. Who am I to say this woman is a terrible writer just because I hated nearly every page of her book? If she asks my opinion, I simply plan to tell her we are polar opposites as writers, both in the stories we tell and the way we tell them. Nothing more.
I have come to the conclusion that both reading and writing are such intensely personal activities that we should take all advice with a grain of salt. Choose what resonates with you and don't feel guilty about setting the rest aside. One writer whose advice I always trust, however, is Stephen King. I'll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from his fabulous On Writing.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
And, perhaps, the most astute observation of all:
“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”