When it comes to offering writing advice, I’m very careful. My usual recommendation is to find out what works best for you, and do that, a lot.
Mind you, over the last few years, I’ve come across a lot of tips and opinions about writing. I’m not talking about ‘How to’ books (though I’ve read a fair amount of those), I’m talking about things I’ve seen online or heard people say at writing groups, conferences, or on blogs.
A lot of those statements seem to make sense at first, but the more I thought about them, the more I came to realize that, while no doubt sincere and/or well-intended, much of that ‘wisdom’ was impractical, potentially damaging, or just plain wrong.
With that in mind, I thought I’d list some of the more common misconceptions I’ve heard, along with an explanation of why (in my opinion) they’re really not helpful at all.
Forget outlines, Stephen King doesn’t use them and he does okay.
So what if Stephen King doesn’t outline? The guy’s an amazing writer who’ll probably be remembered as a literary genius 100 years from now. What works for him isn’t important. Does that mean I think folks should outline? Not at all, I just don’t think Stephen King’s approach to writing a novel should be used as a reason to avoid them.
Robert Heinlein never did rewrites.
I’ve heard this one quite a few times, and frankly, it’s not true.
Now, some folks may be tempted to point to Mr. Heinlein’s famous Rules of Writing #3 ‘You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.’ The trouble is, too many people read only the rule and not the explanation. They think it means you should just write the story, then send it out, but I would urge you to read the explanation he put with that rule, in which he says:
‘My editing process involves several passes of the entire novel, then a chapter-by-chapter review. I hammer away at each and every chapter for as long as it takes. I risk exhaustion with this process, but it's what works for me. But at some point you have say, "I'm done", and resist all further temptations to re-write any more.’
I added the bold and underline on ‘further,’ but it sure doesn’t sound like Mr. Heinlein thinks folks don’t need to bother with rewrites, does it?
If you want to be a better writer, write every day and you will improve.
This is the sort of advice that sounds good, but when you think about it, how is writing every day going to make you a better writer? More prolific? Sure. A faster typist? Absolutely. But a better writer? I don’t see how.
Surely, that only happens when you get an informed opinion telling you what you’re doing right and what needs improving (or in many cases adding), so you can work on those aspects. For that, you need outside help, whether it’s from a good critique group, a helpful editor, or even a mentor.
Today’s publishing world is a lottery.
I wonder how many of today’s published authors realize that all those long hours spent slogging away, honing their craft, polishing their story-telling technique, were unnecessary. Aside from being a silly thing to say, I imagine most published authors would find it quite offensive.
Christopher Paolini self-published and it worked out well for him.
Yes, and back in the early 1950s, my old gran won the all-county spittoon championships three years running - and to this day holds the distance record (24’ 6”). Neither of those things are likely to make any difference to the success or failure of a self-published book today. So it worked out well for Christopher Paolini. Good for him, but using that as justification for taking the self-pub route is as daft as someone who’s looking to be traditionally published saying, “That book at the top of the NY Times best-seller list was traditionally published and it worked out well for him/her.”
I’ll go over some more (in my opinion) dangerous myths, lies and half-truths about writing in a future post, but in the meantime, how about you?
What bad (or dangerously incomplete) advice have you heard people offer to writers?