Friday, June 21, 2013

My writing advice? Take less advice.

Take less advice about how to write.

Reason 1: It is unlikely that your brain processes ideas and experiences in exactly the same way as any other brain. That is what makes your writing distinct. If you manufacture widgets according to specifications drawn up by others, you may find that the process is easier, but I think there is a price to pay in terms of creativity and discovery.

Reason 2: "Tips"* are mostly useless. "Write what you know....Show don't tell...." It isn't that those ideas have no merit, it's that they are faded and nearly meaningless without a specific application to what you are writing.

Be very selective about which advice you trust.

Too many cooks spoil the soup--especially early in the creative process when the work is malleable. If you put cilantro in, someone will complain that the soup tastes like soap. This person thinks it should be stew; that person complains that it can't be sipped out of a travel mug. It just may not be possible to please a committee, and attempts to do so can result in something that is confused, bland, and half-baked, which is a terrible fate for soup.

Consider the source. 

Reason 1: Some people want to make you happy. Some people want to make you sad. None of that has anything to do with writing.

Reason 2: Expertise matters.

Who might have useful knowledge and the ability to express it?

Not me. I was a writing teacher for a long time. I've had three books published. I might seem like I'm qualified give advice, but I'm not. I taught technical writing. I'm still struggling** forward with fiction.

Teachers. Find the best teachers and hear what they have to say. Seek out teachers who write the sort of thing you aspire to write. Shared interest makes learning easier and more likely.

Editors. There is no substitute for working with a great editor who can diagnose a problem and set you up to solve it. Editorial guidance is a catalyst for creative process; the potential for discovery, the "buzz" in the brain, and the pure fun of writing are all amplified.

* I have an unreasonable antipathy toward that word: tips. Eeeew.

** A brilliant, successful novelist shared this with me recently "...we are all learning about novels all over again with each one." I found that consoling--and a little horrifying, as the truth often is.


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