There is a ton of writing advice out there! From books to one sentence nuggets to blogs just like this one, it seems like everyone has thoughts and opinions on how to write. And while there is plenty of great advice, there’s also a fair amount that’s not that great. So how do you tell the good from the bad? That’s what we’re going to take a look at today! (Shout out to commenter Johanna for inspiring this post!)
Understand why there’s SO MUCH advice
It’s important to know that the biggest reason why there is so much advice out there is because there are so many different ways to approach writing. There’s also a lot about writing that’s subjective. I’m sure you’ve found yourself in a situation where everyone is raving about a new book or TV show and you just don’t like it. Or maybe you’ve been the person really excited about a book or TV show only to come across someone who can’t stand it.
Everyone had different tastes and different minds. Which means when it comes to writing, we’re all going to have different things we want to see in books and different things we never want to see again. So before you do anything, recognize that you’re likely going to find conflicting advice and you shouldn’t follow every piece of advice you read. Everyone has different priorities, and sometimes those priorities won’t align with your own.
Only look for the advice you need
Now, because there’s so much advice out there, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by what you’re taking in. This is especially true if you’re just browsing Pinterest for general writing advice. Evaluating writing advice is important, but it’s hard to do if you’re overwhelmed that sheer amount you’re faced with.
So instead of just searching for “writing tips” search for advice on the specific problem you’re having. If you want tips on writing your first book or drafting, look for that. If you want tips on character creation, or plot development look for that. Whatever your problem is, only look for info on that one specific problem. This will narrow your search results, which should help you avoid overwhelm. If you come across an unrelated article that looks like it might be helpful for later, by all mean, save it. But don’t give it too much of your brain power until you’re ready to process and apply the information.
Try as much as possible (but ditch or modify as needed)
Once you’ve done your search for your specific problem, you are probably still faced with plenty of different techniques and approaches. Try as many as possible. You may be surprised by what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to ditch a method that isn’t proving useful, or to modify one that got you started, but isn’t quite right. Because there are so many approaches to writing, the only way you’re going to figure out the best approach for you is to get in there and try a bunch out. If a piece of advice works for you, add it to your toolbox. If it doesn’t, make note of that and move on. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer if something doesn’t work for you. It means you need a different approach.
For example, one piece of common advice I tried but I don’t follow is to write every day. I tried it. It didn’t help me, it drained me. Committing to writing 5-6 days a week helps me write regularly (which I believe is the point of the advice) without feeling fried all the time, so that’s an approach I added to my toolbox.
Consider if the advice will help your process or writing life
This applies mostly for drafting and process advice. Not every piece of advice you read will fit your life and your process. When you’re evaluating a piece of writing advice, consider if it will fit with you and your work style first and foremost. Just because a piece of advice worked well for a very successful writer doesn’t mean it will serve you well.
For example, if a person is struggling with ironing out their story, my first advice will always be to try brainstorming and outlining. Pre-writing like this really helps me, and it’s what I would do in that writer’s situation. If you’re someone who either likes outlining or has been curious about outlining, you might want to give my approach a shot. If your someone who has tried outlines, but never found them helpful, then you shouldn’t take this advice because it doesn’t fit your writing life. Instead, look for someone whose approach jives with your personal style at this stage of the process.
Consider if the advice will help you tell your story
This applies mostly for craft and structure advice. Every story is unique. And sure, there are some conventional approaches and structures that will help you tell an effective story, but every piece of craft and structure advice will not be true for every book. If you read a piece of advice that you think will strengthen your story, take it. If you come across advice that you honestly believe will hold your story back, don’t feel like you have to listen to it.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a fantasy and you come across advice that says the Hero’s Journey plot structure is the best structure for fantasy novels. You might look into the structure, realize all of your favorite fantasy books follow this structure and decide that it would really help your story. Or you might look at it and decide that so much of what you envision happens in the “ordinary world” so the plot structure doesn’t completely make sense for your story.
However, with that said, try to be open enough to consider honestly if the advice will help you–even if it means a lot of work or completely changing the direction of the book.
Understand where the giver is coming from
I truly believe in most cases writers give advice that has worked for them in the hopes that it might help another writer who is struggling with something similar. That’s largely why I blog. I learned so much from hearing other writers’ thoughts and techniques that I wanted to share mine too in case someone else might benefit. That doesn’t mean the thoughts or approaches shared by myself or anyone else is the “right” way to write. There’s plenty of advice I read that I don’t agree with or doesn’t serve me. That doesn’t mean those tips won’t serve someone else.
Most advice comes from writers, editors, or others with a strong understanding of what works for readers and what has worked for writers in the past. Every piece of advice cannot work for every writer or every story. Know that most advice is out there because it will work for some writers and some stories, and it’s up to you to decide if it will work for you.
Know that there’s now “right” or “sure fire” way to write
There are no guarantees in writing. Even if you find a process that works for you, it’s unlikely that it will work all the time. That’s just how writing is. No one has the secret to writing the perfect book time and time again. If you want to be traditionally published or tell a coherent story readers can follow, then there are absolutely some conventions you should consider adhering to, but at the end of the day, it’s all your call. If you don’t feel a piece of advice works for your process, your life, or your story, you are under no obligation to take it. No matter how wildly successful the person offering the advice is. It has to work for you and your story first and foremost.
Personally, I do my best to be open and to consider everything, but it all comes back to what will make me a more effective writer and storyteller. I follow the advice I believe will help me meet those goals.
As always, I hope this helps!
Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing advice? Did I miss anything? Tell me about it in the comments!
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