Can there be TOO much writing advice?

The age of the internet is glorious in the fact that it has managed to connect a huge community of previously solitary writers who can now interact and learn from one another without having to leave the comfort of our writing desks. I, for one, feel I have benefited massively by the information others have provided via blogs, websites and social media. 

How my editing process currently looks...

My current editing process…

However, I am beginning to get overwhelmed by the amount of writing advice there is out there in the world. Every time I read a selection of the blogs I follow – mostly by fellow writers – I am bombarded with the pitfalls and flaws and all of the possible challenges that can creep into our writing.

  • Don’t use adverbs; use a strong verb instead
  • Remember not to head-hop in scenes
  • Leave chapters on a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged
  • Show don’t tell
  • Make sure your grammar is correct
  • Ensure your ‘framing’ is right for the scene (e.g.: not ‘I saw the sun rise’ but ‘The sun rose’)
  • Don’t tell us why she thinks it, show us what she should think
  • Characters need to be consistent and believable
  • Challenge your characters to the limit
  • Vary your sentence structure according to the mood of the scene
  • Get your pacing right
  • Give your reader the benefit of the doubt

And so on…

For every paragraph I write, rewrite, edit and revise there is another piece of advice that I realise I haven’t managed to apply to that scene. It’s making me paranoid. Not only that, but it’s stifling my creativity and paralysing my writing. I’m missing the abandonment of NaNoWriMo where I wouldn’t have time to consider the mistakes I was making. Yet I’m in an editing phase on my novel and those mistakes can’t remain. But each time I feel I’ve made progress, I find another technique or approach that urges me to re-examine what I’ve written and it’s back to the drawing board…

I am beginning to relate to those writers whose work never sees the light of day because they spend years reshaping their work, only for it to be kept in a drawer because ‘it’s not good enough‘ based on the impossible standards they set for themselves. I can’t possibly take on board every single piece of editing advice out there in the ether – not just because some of them are contradictory, but because there is an endless amount. 

What I need to do is concentrate on my own work, create my own techniques and focus on those weaknesses my gut is telling me I need to address in the editing process. ‘Too many cooks…’ and all that could potentially ruin my storyline or dilute my unique writing voice. 

information_overload_hydrant

Having never had anything published – even though I’m sure  that I’ve been submitting my best work recently – I feel at a disadvantage: as though I must not have gotten it right yet, because my writing has not been externally validated. This makes it potentially dangerous to dismiss solid editing advice from experienced individuals, but at the same time what is the point in picking apart my adverb use if my pacing is off and I’m going to need to rewrite the entire scene?

I need to write to the best of my abilities – not someone else’s. Trying to apply all those pieces of advice is foolish when I am unable to see the mistakes for myself (if there are, indeed, any mistakes at all). It’s not seeing the wood for the trees…where each tree represents a different piece of writing advice. I need to take that step back and see the whole piece of writing before I can start to examine the individual components. 

So, it’s time to disregard the advice and just get on with it. It’s time to listen to my own advice, based on my own experiences. It’s time to write well for me and for the reader I have in mind instead of for the agents or editors or publishers. It’s time to learn from the mistakes I’ll make along the way, instead of trying to skirt around them in fear. 

It’s time to tackle this revision head on; warts and all….

~~~

How do you cope with all the writing advice out there in the world? Are there any pieces of advice you ignore, or have found invaluable?
Let me know in comments, or Tweet me.

 

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15 responses to “Can there be TOO much writing advice?

  1. Pingback: A word to the wise: This is YOUR STORY | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. Yes, there is too much writing advice out there! When it starts to stifle your creativity and steals you from your writing time, then it’s time to stop reading it and just write. Sounds like you’re on the right pathway now, Cat!

  3. So true! Copy a page from Lee Child. He uses adverbs and his sentence length is long. Or Nora Roberts, who has made a fortune head hopping. Or Janet Evanovich, who starts every Plum with backstory. If only I could write as badly as they do! I’m kidding of course. They’re brilliant, and they don’t follow all the rules.

    Great Post!

    • Thanks Elisabeth – I also find it a little frustrating that all those pieces of advice I try so hard to follow are often missing in my favourite books! Sometimes it does feel like it’s one rule for newbies, another for established writers: another good reason to not follow the rules to the letter to the detriment of your writing!

      Thanks for commenting – glad you enjoyed the post (and for the Tweet!) 🙂
      Take Care, Cat x

  4. I have posted a couple of times on this exact same issue which is a bugbear for all new writers, I think and in the end, all we can do is our best. We don’t have an editor to do all that for us, although, we will obviously pay a professional to do that once our novels are finished but it is a very long slog from here to there, agreed.

    • Well said Julie. We’re in the midst of that long slog at the moment and, sometimes, what we need is a little rant and/or reassuring support to remind us we’re not alone!

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂
      Take Care, Cat x

  5. “What I need to do is concentrate on my own work, create my own techniques and focus on those weaknesses my gut is telling me I need to address in the editing process.” Sounds like you already have a good idea how to deal with all this advice! One thing that might help, though, if you aren’t already doing it, is showing your work to some people you trust to give you constructive feedback. Sometimes those people can help you see the next, most important step to take in revision. With an outside opinion or two, the process can seem a little less overwhelming, I find. Best of luck! Keep on trucking!

    • Thanks Sharon. You are right – I think I have gotten to the stage where I need to share my writing in order to discover what I can improve on objectively.
      I joined a writing group and found myself a great beta reader who’s been helping me out, and that does seem to be helping.
      That’s the great thing about the internet in retrospect – although there might be a lot of advice about, it does coax us out of our internal critique and encourage us to share our writing with the world in order to get a different view on it.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m feeling reassured I’m on the right track now…:)
      Take Care, Cat x

  6. I have the same problem. I’ve learned so much from the advice in books and blogs (and try to apply every piece of advice you listed there when it works, and they’ve helped)… but there’s always more, and there comes a point where you just want to plug your ears and scream to block it all out, because it’s NEVER going to be perfect.

    I’ve found that my beta readers are helpful with this. One got on my case for using “was” too much (passive), and I really learned from that. I also learned that other “mistakes” can be just a part of a writer’s unique voice. We need to take advice with a grain of salt, use what makes sense to us, and just try to keep improving through each story we write.

    We can never please every reader out there. There will always be flaws in our work.

    My approach now when I read a piece of advice is to consider it, decide whether it’s really something that’s going to bring my work up a level, and either use it or discard it. Advice is just that– advice. The only rule I think is universal is to do what’s best for your story.

    • This is a very sensible and valuable piece of advice Kate – thanks for sharing!
      It can be so difficult to discern what will help instead of hinder and I think you’re right when you say it depends on whether it will improve your work or just confuse you as a writer.
      I’m glad I’m not the only one out there suffering from information overload. It’s good to hear how other people handle it.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Appreciate it. 🙂
      Take Care, Cat x

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with you. There are too many so-called ‘rules’ and too many people trying to perpetuate them. That said, however, some of the guidelines which have stood the test of time are invaluable and (in my experience) really do improve your writing. I tend to identify the ones which apply to where I feel I have weaknesses in my writing. For example, “don’t talk about the weather” is one I break all the time. I use weather but I don’t overdo it, it’s background emphasis for emotions. “Too many adverbs”, on the other hand, is a problem I tend to lapse into, so I try and keep that in mind. It’s all about balance, being comfortable with your voice and seeing rules as flexible things.

    • This is so true. It is thanks to reading and learning about the mistakes of other writers that I’ve identified some of the weaknesses in my own writing. I used to head-hop quite a lot in the beginning, and use overly complicated dialogue tags, but now I ‘know better’, correcting these have improved my writing a lot.

      I might have to print out your last sentence to remind me not to take the ‘rules’ too seriously:
      “It’s all about balance, being comfortable with your voice and seeing rules as flexible things.”
      This is such a great attitude to have. Thanks for sharing it! 🙂
      Take Care, Cat x

  8. I don’t read blogs that tell me how to write. I enjoy reading about author’s journeys and what writing means to them, personal methods they use to overcome obstacles and helpful tips about the industry itself.

    Blogs that try and tell me the best way to write are offensive and to be ignored.

    There are no rules in writing. I know you can write, Cat. You don’t need any more ‘advice’, just do your thing and all will be well. x

    • Thanks doll. 🙂 I always appreciate your support and encouragement. It’s good to know you’re out there looking out for me.
      Thanks for reminding me that I’m good enough to enjoy my writing without being pressured by the masses.
      x

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