I’m still in the middle of moving chaos, so writing time has been hard to find. But today I wanted to share some thoughts of mine on writing advice. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately so I wanted to share some general tips.
I’ve been writing for years, but I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. I’m hardly an expert in any area and I want to keep learning and improving. There’s so much writing advice out there, it can be hard to figure out which stuff to listen to. Here are my tips for sorting through the many books, blogs, forums, podcasts, and other sources of writing advice.
First of all, critical thinking skills are key when you’re taking anyone’s advice. Think about who is saying it and what motivation they might have. Is it an experienced writer? Is it a meme on social media with no attribution which is just getting shared for “likes?” Is it a teacher or other so-called expert of creative writing who doesn’t have any published books to their name, but they want you to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their writing course? These are all important questions to ask.
When you are thinking about advice from an author, you can look up their books and see how it’s put into practice. Maybe an author has a lot of books out, but are they the kinds of books you want to write? Also think about what other people have to say about their books. If someone is giving advice about pacing, but you see many reviews complaining that their books are too slow, that might not be useful advice.
For example, many people recommend Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Now, King is a bestselling author when many books to his name, so you might think he is a definitive authority. However, I’m not really a fan of his writing. I don’t want to write books like him. When I considered the advice from his book, it didn’t fit with me. He says fiction writers should never use adverbs. Adverbs are just one type of word, a tool that an author can use depending on their style. I tend to write YA/Teen books, a genre which stylistically has a lot of adverbs. So I don’t take King’s advice on avoiding all adverbs.
When it comes to prescriptive advice about grammar and writing, it is a good idea to get a grasp of the rules for sentence structure. You can choose to break rules, but you should understand what those rules are for and how they work so you break them in a conscious way. To make a mistake out of ignorance just looks sloppy.
I do recommend trying many types of techniques to see what works for you. For example, there are many styles of plot structure and planning that can go into developing a story. Some people don’t like to plot anything in advance and write “by the seat of their pants.” So there are many discussions about “plotters vs. pantsers” aka people who plan and people who don’t. I’ve written books that were over-planned, some with no notes, and everything in between. That’s how I developed my current system because it’s what works for me right now. If it doesn’t work for a particular novel, I’ll change again in the future.
It can be helpful to spend time doing writing exercises, to let other people critique your work, and to practice critiquing other people’s stories, too. But always consider if any exercise or critique you receive is useful to you. Especially when it comes to other people’s opinions, remember that your story won’t appeal to everyone. Some people just won’t like your writing and that’s okay. Thank them for their feedback but don’t take it to heart. In the end, only you know the way that you want to tell your story, and you shouldn’t let other people shape it to fit their preferences too much.
There’s probably more opinions and advice on writing out there than there are writers. There’s no single path to writing a good book, so the information you find can vary a lot. It’s fun to try things out for a new perspective, but you can’t follow every rule or guide at once. At the end of the day, use what works for you and don’t sweat the rest of it.
If you like to write, what’s your favorite piece of writing advice? Have you ever had a recommendation that didn’t work for you?