Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Writing Advice I Won't Give

When you read enough blogs by writers, writing blogs, interviews with writers, and other writing-related web-posted material, some common themes start to emerge.  I agree with most of them.  Writers write.  Butt in chair, get to writing.  Write the book you've always wanted to read. And cut the boring parts.

Still, there are some pieces of advice that I can't, in good conscience, get behind.  Maybe they depend on your individual goals, or your personality, or your genre.  Maybe I'm just an oddball and these ideas really are universal, except for my warped view of things. 

However, I will never tell you to:

1) Write the book of your heart, and don't think about trends.

If you just want to write, write.  Write whatever is begging to be told, and don't think a whit about what's out there in the publishing world.  If your goal is just words on paper (and that, friends, is a worthy goal), just write.  But if you want to be published, write the book of your heart...after making sure it's not a complete wash in the saleability department. Save yourself heartache.  Research a little first.

Please note--I am NOT telling you to chase trends.  Not a bit of it.  What I am suggesting, however, is an informed and aware approach to the marketplace.  If anything, from my personal experience of being told "this is too similar to too much out there" from agents when querying projects, you want to make sure that what you're writing is new, not neatly falling in line with a trend.  (By the time you get that trendy idea written, it will be old news, dollface.)  So if the book of your heart is a love triangle between a mortal girl, a vampire, and a werewolf...well, I won't tell you not to write it.  But I will tell you that something eerily akin to a book--or books--that already exist might be a very hard sell.  And a very big risk.

Same goes for something that completley defies any genre conventions that currently exist out there.  Of course, risky books can pay off big.  But risk--that's the key word here.  If you're willing to take on a big risk, write the genre-defying work.  If your primary goal is publication...maybe the risk isn't worth it to you, and knowing the conventions of your intended genre is a wise idea.

2) Write every day, on a schedule.

Ok, any other working moms out there?  (All moms are working moms--after fifteen months staying at home, that is damn hard work!)  People with families?  With nine-to-five jobs that follow them home?  What about people with jobs that have irregular schedules?  How about students--oh, the student writers!  Bless you, and your complete lack of consistent schedules! (Finals week turning anyone out there upside down right about now?)

Anyone else laugh out loud at the idea of being able to keep a strict schedule?

If it works for you, do it.  Absolutely.  I'll tell you, I *try* to write every day during my daughter's naptime.  I *try* to maintain a weekly afternoon writing "date" with myself. But if a strict schedule is, well, impossible in your life, that's ok.  You are not failing if you can't write from 7-10 a.m. daily.  You are not failing if (GASP) you can't write every day at all.

I do advise taking writing seriously, and setting aside the time for it.  But a strict daily schedule?  That's a privelege not all of us can have.

3) What matters are ideas and creativity

This is an insidious little lie that I see cropping up among a lot of the college students I work with.  Don't get me wrong--ideas and creativity are very important to any kind of writing, from a term paper to a novel.  They do not, however, displace the importance of mechanics--especially if publication is your goal.

I'm going to be mean for a second.

If you can't write a complete sentence, your work is not publishable. 

If you can't write an effective plot, your work is not publishable.

If you can't use proper grammar, your work is not publishable.

It doesn't matter how great your idea is--if it's a mechanical mess, no one is going to fix it for you.  YOU need to fix it.  When you send an agent your work, it needs to be clean (maybe not perfect, but clean).  Ditto a publisher.  And if you plan to self-publish, you need to be even stricter with your mechanics.  Readers are not going to line up behind an author whose work is unreadable from a grammatical standpoint, or whose beautiful prose flounders in a lack of plot. 

It's ok if grammar isn't your strong suit.  You can still be a good writer--you just have to be aware of that shortcoming and address it when you revise and edit.  It's ok if the mechanics of plot and story structure don't come easily--you have to work harder at it.  It's ok if you  make mistakes.  You can be a good writer despite having trouble with any element of writing, because--I promise--everyone has something that comes easier, and something that comes harder.  Ideas and creativity matter--a lot--but don't fool yourself into thinking they are the only things that matter.

So, we've established that I'm a huge grinch, right?  Let's turn the tables--what writing advice do you find very helpful, or supremely unhelpful?

Next week--my favorite writing advice.


  1. Brilliantly put as always, Rowena! I couldn't agree more. :-)

  2. I've been thinking through these points myself, lately.

  3. Thanks, Caroline! Laurie, would love to hear more of your thoughts!