Self Talk

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice (And How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink)


I think I understand why old school writers were heavy drinkers.

I think I understand why some of them fell into dark thoughts, depression or loneliness. I think I understand why writers generally are isolated introverts, hiding from the real world, wrapping themselves up in their imaginary lands, fighting dragons, discovering treasure and falling in love:

They’re hiding from ubiquitous and contradictory writing advice. 

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice and How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink

Single point of view or not? Past tense or not?  Predictable, relatable characters or something unique? Write what you know or write what you don’t know? Publish it immediately to get it out there or rewrite it a million times? And that’s just the craft piece of the puzzle, there’s also the marketing end: Facebook page or not? Use Twitter to promote your book or not? Collect email addresses or not? The opinions never seem to end. If you don’t know what you are doing, (and honestly, few of us do) you’ll probably come away from these well-meaning articles more confused.

Makes me long for simpler times when all you needed was a manual typerwriter. Or a quill.

Writers, as a generalized group already have a tendency for nicotine and alcohol addiction, but I imagine if the writers of a half, whole or two centuries ago had the social media influence that we have today, we may have had fewer masterpieces and more Sylvia Plaths.

That’s one characteristic I share with the dark souls of other eras.  I know that if I become obsessed with what is expected in my favorite genre, what my agent want, what the industry is doing, what my peer groups say, what my critique partners say, what my crazy Aunt Rhonda says, then I turn into a blubbering fool, who can’t write a shopping list.

I discovered this when I sent my manuscript to twenty-five beta testers. Some thought it was too long, some thought it was too short. Some thought it had too many characters, some not enough. Some didn’t understand why I set it in Oklahoma. Some totally got it. One reader, who has absolutely no experience in the publishing industry, decided she wanted to be my editor/agent and insisted that all future changes go through her. My response to her was in an acronym. First it was BS. Then it was ROTFL.

Sometimes, however, when I get conflicting advice, I don’t ROTFL, I panic. I cry. I freak out, thinking that I really don’t know what I’m doing. I slip into that dark place of anxiety and fear that convinces me that the path to happiness goes through pleasing others and not myself. This would be the time, if I were a heavy drinker, I’d reach for the whiskey and toast Hemingway. But this isn’t how writers get better. This only makes things worse.

Perhaps the problem is too many voices? Too much clutter? Too much influence? Maybe it is. So, I’m restricting my circle of influence.  I also receive instruction from reputable sources as I need it. I want to get better by being more intentional in who I learn from and what I learn. This, I hope, will keep that overwhelmed feeling at bay. The next group of beta testers will be people I trust and who will encourage me.

I think when my mind is clear, I’ll be calmer and I’ll be stronger.

I will be a better writer.

What about you? Are you overwhelmed with advice? What do you to do declutter?

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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