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.
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.
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.