Some Writing Advice is Crap

I have a shelf full of books about writing and storytelling. Some of them are written by famous writers. Some are written by people you have never heard and teach the craft of fiction at well regarded university writing programs.

They all have something useful in them.

They all have varying degrees of bullshit.

Here is a fact about famous writers and writing teachers.

You ain’t them.

Some writing advice is universal. Good stories have characters, plot, and a structure. These are technical concepts that teachers of story from Aristotle to McKee have understood for eons.

Some writing advice doesn’t work for everyone. That sort of advice tends to be about process, tools, or what time of day to write. What works for one writer, won’t work for another.

Where bad ideas go to die.

Stephen King doesn’t have a notebook of ideas. I remember a quote from him that I can’t be bothered to look up. Paraphrasing, he says, “Notebooks are where bad ideas go to die.”

Neil Gaiman has piles of notebooks. He writes, draws and takes notes. In his Masterclass, he calls his notebooks his “compost pile.”

Wendell Berry doesn’t use a computer. He writes his novels with an ink pen in a notebook. His wife types them out.

George Martin uses an old Wordstar word processor that runs on DOS.

Success leaves clues.

There are patterns. We are human. We all have some basic biology in common. What works for one person might work for you.

Or, it might not.

We differ in our upbringing, our life experiences, who raised us, the places we’ve been and a myriad of other ways.

We are the same and we are unique, simultaneously. It’s a marvel, really.

It is worth looking into what other writers do. I’ve learned some valuable concepts and practices from other writers.

There are techniques, processes, tools that will work for most anyone. There are techniques, processes and tools that will only work for a small number of writers.

I avoid using adverbs ending in -ly because Stephen King pointed out how weak they are in his writing book. That was good advice. The notebook thing is crap, for me. I have executive function issues. My working memory is dodgy. I don’t get good ideas very often. I fear losing something so fleeting.

How do you figure out what works for you?

The secret.

Be open minded. Try stuff.

That’s it. That’s the secret.

You try something and see what happens. If it works then keep doing it. Give it an honest appraisal. If it falls flat, try something else.

Reading books, going to seminars, watching videos can be helpful. You can learn stuff to try. Ideas that might not have occured to you have been discovered by other people.

Merely reading what someone else does isn’t enough.

You have to create something. You also must accept that your experiment might flop.

Try it anyway.

The only way to learn and develop the process that works for you is by creation. You have to engage with uncertainty. You have to make to know.

Certainly, you can speed up your discovery by seeking advice from the pros. You might find the tool you need. You still have to do the work.

In conclusion, I have no idea.

I have no idea what process and what techniques are going to work for you.

The only person that can figure that is you. Be open minded. Try stuff.

2 thoughts on “Some Writing Advice is Crap

  1. With a lifetime of writing behind me — and ahead of me — the only advice I give to writers when they ask is this: write.

    That’s it. If they write often enough, they’ll exercise the writing muscle. This will encourage them to seek out advice, read blogs and magazine articles, study the craft and improve.

    If they don’t write, nothing else will make them a better writer. Hockey players become better hockey players by playing, not reading about it.


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