There are a million places a writer can turn to find advice on how to write. Simply type "writing advice" into any search engine, and voila! A plethora of links will say, "Top Ten Commandments for Writing" or "Ernest Hemingway's Rules For Writing" or "Twenty Tips To Make Your Writing Pop!" It appears writers feel the need to go out search for a guidebook on how to perfect this crazy thing we do.
As I have gone along in my career, writers actually come seek me out, thinking I have magic knowledge they don't possess. I never get used to it. Why listen to me? I don't have all the answers, and the newsflash is no one else does either. Not even Ernest Hemingway.
So why do we read these articles? Why seek out online lists that say the same thing over and over again? Why do we email authors we like for advice? I think it's a combination of things. We as creatives struggle constantly with our own feelings of inadequacy. Putting yourself out there is terrifying, so maybe if you read these tips/rules/commandments from on high it will better equip you for the long road ahead.
The truth is this. You are already equipped. You have all the rations you need. You are a writer, a creature with worlds in your brain. No one knows how to move forward on your journey better than you, even if you don't realize it.
I'm not saying you can't find valuable information in the advice you receive. Of course you can. Sometimes a person says something about your work that really opens things up for you. I do this all the time with my book coaching clients. I read their novels, and give them positive insight into their own writing. I love seeing how it lights them up and moves them to run with their new arsenal of inspiration. Sometimes I read a note about my own writing, and man does it fill me with new air.
“Rules” or “Tips” are vague, generalized, and often provided as click bait. What I describe above is specific feedback about your work. I think we can all agree they are different, but they do have one thing in common…one question you as a writer need to ask yourself before taking that nugget of information and moving forward with it…why are you listening to it?
Going back to the journey metaphor. You are going about your way with all the supplies you need to reach your goal. Someone walks up to you with an energy drink and hands it to you. “This will help you on the road ahead,” they say. “Trust me, everyone says you need it to keep going.”
You look at the energy drink and think of how much these make you sick to your stomach and don’t want to take it, but the helpful person says to do it anyway. So you take it and move on your way, but your progress slows because you keep stopping to drink the nasty thing over and over again even though it makes you sick. Everyone says it's what you should do, right?
Now imagine a different person approaches you with some power bars and says, “This will help you on the road ahead.” You remember that you love power bars, so you take them. Getting to your destination is so much faster and more fulfilling since you are happy to eat your power bars along the way.
Personally, I hate power bars and energy drinks and muscle powder stuff and all that, but this analogy illustrates my ultimate point. Both of these people meant well, and both offered something they thought would help. The difference is in you, the writer. It’s how you feel about what is offered.
If someone gives you advice, and it doesn’t feel right in your gut, don’t take it just because everyone says it’s right. When it doesn’t fit you, it doesn’t fit you. There is no wrong way to write, art, act, sing, etc. If the advice offered lights you up like a Christmas tree, then by all means take it! Run with it as fast as you can!
This goes for me. I tell my book coaching clients if I ever suggest something that doesn’t seem right to them, by all means don’t do it. Who the hell am I? They come to me because I’ve been published, because I’ve won awards, and because I give positive advice. However, I am not them. I can’t pack their supplies for them. I can only offer something that I think can help.
I see the same basic three rules (more or less) every time I read about writing advice. It's not bad advice, but some of it might sit like sour energy drink in your stomach, and I want to tell you that you don't have to follow it. My personal opinion on these “rules” are as follows:
Write A Little Every Day! I personally don’t subscribe to this one at all. I’m a binge writer. The kind you see doing NaNoWriMo every year. My record was a first draft written in sixteen days, and it’s one of the best books I’ve written. I say write at a pace that suits you.
Read Read Read! I personally do subscribe to this one. I read like a fiend, and it helps my writing. However, I know writers who find this difficult. Whenever they read a lot, the voice of the past novel they read gets in their head and infects their writing. They struggle to find their own voice when that happens, so this doesn't work for them.
Never Use (insert plot device/pov/such and such word/prologues/trope/cliché/adverb/the list goes on) In Your Writing! I dislike this one the most. This is your story. You write it how you see fit. Every writer uses some of these “never use” tools. Every. Single. One. If you make them work, then who cares?
Time to be a hypocrite...
I do have one rule for you dear writer/artist/actor/musician. It’s the only rule I know when it comes to reaching your goal in this world. Your journey will come to a screeching halt if you don’t listen to this one. The only rule that matters. Never Give Up. I don’t care how you get there. Never Give Up.