When is Writing Advice 'Bad' Advice?
TheWriterFiles || 1.2
TheWriterFiles || 1.2
Recently I came across a set of rules designed as a simple way to motivate writers:
10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
— Brian Clark
Taken at face value these seem like pretty good tips, boiled down to the craft’s basic elements; after all, sometimes we need to be told in simple terms how to get something done. Sometimes we need to blow the complexity off to see what’s underneath.
The trouble is, it doesn’t work for everyone all the time. To simply tell someone to ‘write’ may not help them through a bad stretch, or help them finish a difficult scene, but given the same advice someone else may have an epiphany and dash off an entire novel. There is no master narrative when it comes to writing advice because what works for Jim-Bob in Texas doesn’t work for Maggie in Seattle.
So why listen to advice at all? Because you take what you can from it. If someone tells you to ‘write even when you don’t feel like it’, you’d either throw your hands in the air in exasperation at such an affront, or quietly say, “Yeah, that sounds reasonable,” depending on your mood at the time. As for me, sometimes I heed the advice, and sometimes I don’t. Take the above motif – ‘Write even when you don’t feel like it’ – I have often followed that advice, and have often ignored it. Sometimes writing when I don’t feel like it actually gets me back in the groove, and sometimes it doesn’t. Take it for what it is. Take it or leave it.
Some people don’t want to hear it. To some, writing advice is simply an annoying noise to be ignored. Certainly if you have written enough and produced enough, advice on writing is simply preaching to the converted. Write? Write more? Thanks Einstein!
There are also echelons to the writing world as well. An author who’s been writing for twenty years hardly needs me to tell them how to go about their business. If I told Stephen King that he needs to ‘write when you have something to say’ he’d probably clap his hands and have his bodyguards haul me away. But some poor writer just starting out in the craft might need to hear it - every time-worn bit of it.
In response to those ten items of advice listed above, a good friend and fellow writer said this:
10 Steps to Being a Better Writer?
11. STFU and stop giving advice.
12. Sometimes you need NOT to write.
13. Knowing when will make you a better writer.
So you see, sometimes writing advice is good, and sometimes doing the opposite of said advice is good. It depends on your mood, your experience, your situation, your learning curve, your level of writing skill, and who knows what else.
Jimi Hendrix, possibly the greatest guitar player who ever lived, said that he could sit there and watch the most God-awful band playing, and yet he was able to get something positive from it and learn something. Maybe that’s the way to go. Maybe that’s the approach to take when someone’s telling you something you already know or have heard a thousand times.
So, if someone gives you some writing advice today, be polite, smile and say thank you, then maybe do the opposite.