First, let me say I understand it’s ironic to write a post about writing advice being too much on a blog about writing advice, but I’m going to be as ironic as Alanis Morissette—and as bad as that dated reference—and write about it anyway. Most likely to the song, because let’s face it, it’s in your head now too, right?
Second, I will say writing advice is great and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without it. If I hadn’t followed advice for forming a writing habit, my YA series would still be where it was five years ago—a sad, one book draft on my computer, rarely worked on with weak outlines for the other three books. Now the series, although still on my computer, is four complete books at various stages of not as sad drafts.
Another reason writing advice is great is that without it, I wouldn’t have started this blog. And without this blog, I wouldn’t have found the wonderful fellow writers that I have. Talented writers such as M.L. Davis, who does what her excellent blog says and inspires the uninspired. Without her help, I wouldn’t have improved my own writing. And if I’m being as honest as I am ironic, I probably would have given up.
There were a few times this year I considered putting down the pen. Sure, I’d received another generic rejection (after waiting 15 months!) and I’d been given beta feedback that made me question if I knew what I was doing as a writer. But it wasn’t these things that made me want to quit.
I’ve dealt with rejection in the past and will in the future. I’m also big on using constructive criticism to improve. It was what I had to do to move past these hurdles that had me considering walking away. It was the writing advice I had to follow to grow as a writer. The writing advice that became too much.
The rejection kicked it off. The feedback compounded it. The feeling I wasn’t a good enough writer fed it and the advice on how to be a better writer drowned me. Advice such as…
- Show, don’t tell.
- Grammar has to be perfect.
- Spelling mistakes make you look unprofessional.
- Don’t open with a dream.
- Stay away from clichés.
- Your writing has to have emotion, but that adds extra words and extra words need to be deleted.
- The opening three chapters have to be strong.
- Your first line must have a hook.
- Don’t info dump, but add backstory so we get to know your characters.
- Don’t slow down the pace by getting to know the characters because that ruins the action.
- Saying a character moved from their seat is stage directing. Not saying where a character is sitting doesn’t create a picture.
- Writing emotions (i.e. he was angry) is bad and should be fleshed out into paragraphs. Those paragraphs will add to a word count you need to keep low but also at a certain length or your MS is considered a novella, not a novel. This also slows down your pace.
This advice, and more like it, doesn’t only overwhelm, it sucks all the fun out of writing!
Now if I can also be contradictory, I’m not saying don’t do these things. To be better you need to, and I’m in the middle of re-writes using this advice right now. What I’m saying is don’t do it all at once. Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point where you want to give up.
Concentrate on one piece of advice at a time, implement it one edit at a time. It might take longer, but to now also be a cliché as well as ironic, honest, and a contradiction, slow and steady wins the race!
Getting your writing to a publishable level isn’t fun. You have to go against your natural instinct to write a sentence that runs too long. Or pen a paragraph with too many commas (or not enough). But you do it because that’s what great writers do. That’s what every writer who crafted the books sitting on your shelf did.
It’s not fun and has to be done (there you go, I’m a rhymer too), so when it becomes too much…
- Take a break and work on something else.
- Write for fun and your eyes only, not caring about advice or rules.
- Use the advice that works for you.
- Don’t change what you love about the story. Instead, make it so good no one will ever suggest you change it again.
- Listen to the advice that will help you improve even if it stings to hear it.
- If the advice makes you feel like a failure, listen to it less, but try to learn from it.
Writing advice should help, not hinder you. If it’s making you freeze at the keys, step back. Re-evaluate. Remember what you love about writing and get back to that.
Don’t edit your work to the point there’s no magic in the words just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. If you—the writer—is not getting any joy out of crafting your words, how can you expect anyone who reads it to?
So for one last piece of advice that isn’t too much; use the advice that will help you reach your goals and forget everything else.
If there’s no joy in writing, you wouldn’t do it. And being a writer who doesn’t write is a little too ironic, don’t you think?
— K.M. Allan