There’s a lot of bad advice floating around out there. Some of it is bad for everyone, but some of it might just be bad for you.
For example, here’s some terrible advice. “Write the kind of novel that you love. Don’t worry about anyone else’s hopes or dreams or expectations. You’re not them. You can only write what you love.”
Now, on the surface, there is some decent logic here, but this piece of advice was given to me by a writing instructor years ago, and it sounded to me sort of like “making love” when you’re the only person in the room. By following it, writing became all about self-gratification.
It seemed to me that you ought to take your audience into account—specifically your paying customers. Shouldn’t you pay attention to their wants and needs, too?
On reflection, I realized that my writing instructor—wise and kind as she was—was not a working writer. In fact, she had never submitted a short story to a publisher. She’d never written a novel. And when it came to advice on lovemaking, I realize now that she wasn’t even married.
So here is my first piece of advice: consider the source of your information. A few years ago I was with some other bestselling writers and we realized that it was really tough for people nowadays to get advice from professional writers—ones who are making a good living at writing. So we started the Superstars Writing Seminars in order to help fulfill that need. (And now we’re in our tenth year!)
A lot of people give out bad advice by accident, but some people do it on purpose. Whenever Ernest Hemingway was asked a stupid question, he used to give outrageous answers. “How many times should I rewrite a story?” someone would ask. “I’d give it at least sixty rewrites,” he’d answer, “and make sure to let it sit for at least two years between each reading.” At that rate, it will take 120 years for you to finish a short story. Obviously, he never followed his own advice.
Other writing advice might be bad for you personally. For example, a lot of people ask, “What kind of mood music do you listen to when you write?” Now, I wrote my novel Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia to the soundtrack of the original Star Wars movie, but I almost never listen to anything when I write. I listen to the voices in my own head. Gone are the days when I can listen to Ozzy Osbourne banging his head to “Iron Man” while I compose.
So you have to ask yourself, “What works for me?” If I write 20 pages a day in silence, but only get 5 pages while listening to heavy metal, then I know to turn off the music. Similarly, I don’t write late at night simply because even though I’m very productive at night, I’ve discovered that my critical sensibilities fall asleep at about 10:00 PM. Anything that I write after that tends to go into the garbage. I do better if I get up and write in the morning.
So when you hear advice from a writer, ask yourself, “Is this good advice? Does the writer know what she is talking about? Is the advice meant to be helpful, or is it mean-spirited? Would the advice work for me, or is it something that works just for that writer?”
Once you find a writing principle that works for you—one that you can depend on—treasure it!
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I will also be teaching at SpikeCon on July 3rd, also in Layton, Utah. Learn more here.
Don’t forget to register for two upcoming writing workshops. Writer’s Peak July 19-20 and The Plot Thickens Master Class September 18-21. More info on MyStoryDoctor.com.
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