Over the years of climbing my way up the ladder in the world of writing, I’ve read and heard countless pieces of advice on how to be a writer, and here’s what I’ve concluded: be wary of advice. There is no lack of information on the best practices of writing, but is it all good? Absolutely not. Why? Because we all have our own writing practices that work for us.
What works for Sarah Gullund Doesn’t necessarily work for Emily Giffin (two of my favorite authors, by the way). The key is finding what works for YOU.
Here are just a few examples (in a sea of many) of advice topics that should be taken lightly, especially for newer writers:
Write Every Day
One of my least favorite pieces of advice that you’ll find lurking around too many corners is the “write every day” advice. If you can write every day, great. If you strive to write every day, good for you. But if you can’t write every day for whatever reason (busy with family, sick, no motivation on that day, tired…), that’s okay, too. The pressure to write is more disruptive than letting writers write when it works for them.
It’s a common complaint and stress that I see on a regular basis being posted in numerous writer’s groups. Writers in a panic that they can’t write every day and fear it will kill their career. Thankfully, there is an abundance of skilled and successful writers who will tell you it will not hurt your writing career to be human and write when you can.
Write What You Know
Another big one I see tripping up writers is the advice to write what you know. That’s great for nonfiction authors, but a little off the mark for fiction writers. If we stuck to that chain of thinking, most books out there wouldn’t exist. Unless time travel is a real thing, historical writers know what they know because they research and/or study the subject and time period. And do you think all those authors like Dan Brown or …… commit the crimes they write about? Of course not.
The things you know or have experienced will play a role in anything you write, but you aren’t limited to only those things. We, thankfully, have the capacity to learn and to imagine and to draw from the experiences of others.
Plot Your Novel
Then there’s the ever-continuing debate over plotting your novel or not. To be a pantser or a plotter. Again, it’s completely up to you. You might even find that what works for you in writing one novel may change by the next one. Or, like me, you’ll consistently fall somewhere in-between the two styles. It’s all good as long as it works for you.
Remember, writing is as individual as, say, your fingerprint. Each of us has our own voice and unique ways of creating our work. I think it’s important to keep this in mind, or you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed and insecure. And what writer needs a heavier dose of those things?
Please understand I’m not saying advice should be ignored—it can offer great insight. I’m saying we all need to keep in mind that it may or may not suit us, or our individual style or situation.
Beware of any advice that begins with the phrase you should or you shouldn’t. Use discernment. Especially since you’ll notice that almost every piece of advice has a counterpoint or an opposing view. That’s always interesting, isn’t it? Or not.
Here is a good quote by Neil Gaiman to keep in mind as you develop your own personal writing processes and style, or when getting feedback from beta readers and others:
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. when they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Book recommendation: All the books in Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s Thesaurus collection. The Emotion Thesaurus is a favorite edition, but they are all useful tools to have in your ever-growing writing toolbox.