The Cacophony of Writing Advice

From Jane Friedman’s blog: How Can I Set Aside the Cacophony of Writing Advice and Just Write?

My immediate response: For heaven’s sake, just quit seeking out and reading writing advice. Why is that hard?

I don’t honestly understand why that’s hard, but if it’s hard, then disconnect from writing blogs / social media / the whole internet and there you go, poof! Suddenly you will be reading a lot less advice about everything, including writing.

Personally, I sort of like books about writing, but I don’t find them helpful, just interesting. But if you keep wanting to read these books and keep wanting to try to take the advice contained within and this is getting in your way, then give all those books away.

Nobody is coming to your home, stomping through your door, and shouting writing advice at you in person, probably. So if you don’t want writing advice, then quit seeking out advice.

I’m really curious about what else this post might suggest. Let me take a look …

Okay: How to set aside the cacophony of writing advice? Here are the suggestions, summarized:

A) Stop fearing that you’re missing out on something important.

It’s highly unlikely you’re going to miss out on a piece of valuable information or knowledge that would dramatically change your writing fortunes … It’s more likely, in fact, you’re going to come across harmful information from people who have no business giving you advice. Most important, a lot of the lessons to be learned about writing come from doing it, from the practice, from showing up. So that’s priority number-one. Everything else is secondary to supporting that effort.

That’s absolutely true.

B) If you feel you have to seek advice, pick a couple people whose opinion you trust and focus on their advice.

That seems like a good suggestion.

C) Most writing advice is despensible.

This is not to discount the many wonderful newsletters, blogs, social media accounts, podcasts, and so on that offer advice. But … if it’s not bringing you joy, if it’s not something you actively look forward to (and especially if it’s something that feels anxiety producing or a burden), it’s time to let go of it.

Absolutely, and as far as I’m concerned, that goes for everything online. This is the part that I thought of first: just quit seeking out and paying attention to writing advice.

D) Quit worrying about making mistakes.

There are some writers I meet who simply fear messing up and try to gather as much advice as possible before they even begin. Unfortunately, the writing process is more or less defined by messing up and starting over. Writing is revising. Good writing advice can help you avoid the serious pitfalls, or bring clarity to a confusing process, but creative work of any kind is going to involve countless bad ideas. It’s important to work through the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. (And hopefully you’ve gained enough self-awareness to know when you’ve moved past the bad into the good.)

E) If you’re avoiding writing by reading about writing, why?

Writing is hard work, says Jane Friedman, and of course that’s true. I agree that probably reading about writing might be an avoidance method, just like almost anything else.

F) Don’t focus now on writing problems that might someday be relevant.

Now THAT is good advice.

Now, if only it were possible to say: Just quit listening to advice about marketing and do marketing yourself! Alas, I don’t thing that’s especially likely to work out.

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4 thoughts on “The Cacophony of Writing Advice”

  1. I think the only writing advice I’ve seen which approaches being universal was about the importance of diligently making backups and copies of your work, so in case of sudden unexpected disaster, you don’t lose everything.

  2. I, too, read writing books mostly for curiosity’s sake. For a while when I was younger I basically read through my library’s entire section of books about writing, and what I took away from that was that everyone has a different method and that you may just as well learn basic principles of grammar, read a lot in the genres you intend to write (and read outside of them for variety) and then write. A lot.

  3. Kat, that one is good! I’ve said for years that the most universal advice is: You can’t succeed as a writer unless you finish at least some of what you start. That’s pretty universal as well!

  4. It’s a form of vacuuming the cat.

    I don’t think I’ve found any how-to-write books COMPLETELY useless except for books about N number of plots or M number of character types, but nothing replaces writing.

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