Craft,  Discipline

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice

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

Generally speaking, writers are isolated introverts, hiding from the real world, wrapping themselves up in their imaginary lands, fighting dragons, discovering treasure and falling in love. It’s a lonely place. It could be that they withdraw from the real world as an act of personal survival. 

But then again, maybe they’re hiding from ubiquitous and contradictory writing advice. 

Here’s just a sample: 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.

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 wants, 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?

What should you and I do?

Restrict my circle of influence: Now that I’ve been at this a while, I have my favorite experienced friends who give their advice with kindness. (You can find some too at 10 Minute Novelists)

Receive instruction from reputable sources only: there’s a gazillion writing blogs out there. Seek out the ones with legitimate credentials.

Understand writing is an subjective art: that means there is no right answer. 

Keep our heads: it is not ever a good idea to flit from one piece of advice to another. Instead, sleep on it or ask other writers. There’s no reason to rush. 

I’m convinced a writer with a clear head, one that isn’t overwhelmed by advice, will be confident and more successful. 

What about you? Are you overwhelmed with advice? What do you to do with too much contradictory advice?

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.

One Comment

  • Wally Wood

    I participate in a monthly library mystery book club although I do not—with one exception—write mysteries. I listen to what people connected to, what they were impatient with, what engaged them and what turned them off. Often the opinions are all over the place, and when the majority of the group did not care for the book the discussion is most lively.

    In critiques of my work from my writers group, I listen to what makes sense to me and ignore the rest. Try to satisfy everyone and you might as well stop writing now.