Saturday, June 07, 2014

How to Recognize Bad Writing Advice

Mention that you are a fiction writer in public and you may receive a barrage of unsolicited advice. It seems that everyone would write a book if they "only had the time." Friends, family members, and even complete strangers may be quick to tell you what you should write about and how it should be written. Receiving contradictory writing advice can be frustrating for new writers. Separating the good advice from the bad is critical. There are some easy ways to learn to recognize bad writing advice, so you can discard it and continue with your work.

"Always" and "Never"

There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. Every person is different, so they are all going to bring their own schedule and style to the process. Some of the most important works of literature in history ignore common writing rules and guidelines. The rules of writing can be broken when it suits your story. It is important to understand why you are choosing to break a rule, but that doesn't mean you are wrong.

Consider the Source

Sometimes, people have ulterior motives for giving advice. Perhaps you have a friend who is jealous of your writing or a teacher who has never managed to publish - should you really trust these sources? Your non-writer friends may have great intentions when they try to give you advice on writing, but if they have never written a novel or short story, they may not have the knowledge base to help you.

Know Your Style

Every person is going to write differently. Not only is the style of the words you put down on paper going to be different, but your process will be. Some writers swear by waking up an hour early to get their writing time in each day, while night owls could never be successful working like that. Writing is not a one size fits all activity, and any advice will have to be modified to fit into your own style. When you are working on your first novel or short story, it can be difficult to know how to get your best work done. However, with practice you will gain confidence and understanding.

Common Sense

The best way to recognize bad writing advice is to simply listen to yourself. Does the advice make common sense to you? Trust your own instincts. At the end of the day, you are the one that has to sit down and write your story. No one else can do it for you. Only take advice that you feel comfortable using. If it doesn't make common sense to you it is bad writing advice, no matter how many other people have succeeded.

Trial and Error

Sometimes, the only way to recognize if a piece of advice will work for you is to try it out. Authors invariably disagree on many things, such as whether or not to outline their novel before they begin. If you aren't sure whether you should write on the fly or outline, try it both ways! Since your style and sensibilities will vary from other writers, you need to learn what works best for you. Try writing something without an outline and then use one on your next project. What were the pros and cons of each format? Did one feel more comfortable and natural to you?

Learning to write is about practice. As you continue to develop your skills, you will learn which writing advice suits you best. Do not stress out about the advice that others give you. Far too many people who give writing advice are not writing fiction. Learn to recognize what fits with your writing ideals and ignore the rest.

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