Our blog theme for the month is the worst writing advice I ever received. Maybe I’ve been lucky; but I can’t think of any truly terrible advice I’ve been given.
I had a critique partner who frequently suggested that I lengthen my phrases and sentences. If you know me, even a little bit, you know that’s the last thing I need. Instead, I’m working toward crafting tighter, leaner prose and quickening the pace of my passages. So, I mastered the art of the wry smile and gentle head nod whenever he suggested it; letting it go in one ear and out the other.
Yet, there’s the rub when it comes to advice of any kind. A fine balance must be achieved. We must learn to discern between the wheat and the chaff. Not always an easy task.
The right advice can help us become better writers, gain readers or snag the interest of an agent and get picked up by a traditional publisher (if that’s what we desire). The wrong advice will turn our work into soulless prose devoid of any trace of our own unique voice.
As new, eager writers we are prone to listen to every piece of advice launched our way. Once we feel a little more confident in our skills (or overly attached to our words and characters) we have blinders on that prevent us from listening to sound, beneficial advice. Neither situation is advantage.
So how does one find her own way as a writer despite a whirlwind of advice, good and bad, and our own often misguided egos?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. As a dedicated pantser I’d refused to consider the benefits of plotting my story in advance. Yet, I’d write furiously for about half a book before I’d write myself into a corner and end up abandoning the manuscript. When I decided to try plotting, things changed for me. I completed three manuscripts in a very short time. I’ve followed a hybrid approach, part plotter, part pantser for the past few years with good success. However, after several months of minimal production, I decided that I need to do more plotting.
Get lots of reliable feedback. We usually work alone as writers, so we don’t get immediate feedback on our work. Our writing feels so personal and we get so tied up in our characters that it’s easy to overlook or forgive story flaws we wouldn’t in someone else’s story. This is where honest feedback from critique partners, beta readers and editors becomes essential. Whether you love or hate what you hear, be open to it. Give yourself time to ruminate over it before you decide whether the advice is worthwhile.
Listen for echoes. There were times when my critique partners gave me good advice and I just didn’t listen. I was sure I knew my book and my market better than they did. I was wrong. My beta readers posed the same concerns. This caused me to revisit aspects of the story or characters. Then there are book reviews. As authors we debate the value of reading our reviews. I do read them, listening for echoes, similar remarks made repeatedly. I’ve learned more from a constructive DNF than I did from several glowing five-star reviews.
I count myself fortunate because I’ve gotten a treasure trove of beneficial advice from critique partners, beta readers and my editor. I’m finding my own way as a writer by staying open to advice, trying new things, getting honest feedback and listening for echoes, especially from readers. Because of this I’ve improved as a writer. I hope I’ll continue to do so.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally prone to a diva moment in which I refuse to kill my darlings. Hopefully, though, once I’ve had a glass of wine and a moment of clarity, I’ll will make the choice that improves my story and speaks to the reader.
As a writer, how do you find your way despite conflicting advice?
“Chaos inside” by Hartwig HKD. Some rights reserved.
“Feedback” by Giulia Forsythe. Some rights reserved.