Managing Writing Advice

Earlier this month, three separate bloggers posted about the abundance of writing advice on the internet. The first one I stumbled upon referenced the other two, and though they each took a unique approach, they all discussed something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, namely the wealth of writing advice available and how a writer should best process it all. I found it interesting that these posts should all come at the same time, just when I myself had been thinking about this issue. For me, this issue is important because it speaks to the very nature of this blog. So I decided to join the dialogue. I hope, after reading this post, you might add your own thoughts in the comments.

The first post on this topic that I noticed was Writing on the Ether: Pattern Recognition and Writerly Advice, by Porter Anderson, which was published on September 5. Noting a pattern of like-minded posts, Anderson shared links to two others—Is Advice a Vice? published by Jael McHenry on September 2, and Have it Your Way, published on August 30 by Rachelle Gardner.

Anderson’s post made some witty observations about the seemingly endless stream of writing advice available on the internet and elsewhere, such as:

But how many of us really know how to use all this advice? Particularly when much of it is written by writers for other writers, how much of it is a case of the sight-impaired leading the hard-of-hearing?

Does anyone ever worry (you may remember that I like this analogy) that all these how-to books for writers by other writers start to come across like John Updike’s ladies of the church who fund-raise by selling cupcakes to each other?

These questions caused me to take a hard look at the advice I give out. When I write a post for PubCrawl, I tend to write about a topic I myself need to work on. I always hope my posts are helpful, but I must admit I can never be certain that any advice I give will help any writer other than… well…me. Hopefully, it helps a few other people as well. (Thank you to all the readers of this blog who have commented or written to me to say my advice did actually help you with your writing.) I thought about church ladies selling each other cupcakes and I wondered, is that what we’re doing, and if so, is that a bad thing?

Ultimately, I decided that it’s not a bad thing at all. Writers giving other writers advice may, in fact, be a case of the sight-impaired leading the hard-of-hearing, or of church ladies selling each other cupcakes, but I decided that as long as the sight-impaired are only leading the hard-of-hearing and not others who are also sight-impaired, and as long as I’m selling coconut crème cupcakes and buying someone else’s red velvet cupcakes, there’s still a beneficial exchange taking place.

Okay, enough with analogies. My point is, I am confident that there are other writers sharing advice, here on Pub(lishing) Crawl and elsewhere on the web, that can be of help to me. I am always learning. There is always something new that I can discover. Hopefully, I am sharing something helpful and beneficial in return.

Rachelle Gardner’s piece on this issue discussed the fact that there isn’t “one right way” of writing books.

Jael McHenry pointed out that all this writing advice does have a purpose, but it’s important to remember, “It’s just advice.”

I agree. With so many techniques and methods out there, it would be impossible to use all of them and have them work for you. Learn what you can. Try the things that seem interesting, the ideas that seem to fit with the type of writer you know yourself to be. Then use what works.

That’s my advice.

Please join the discussion by sharing your thoughts in the comments!

15 Responses to Managing Writing Advice

  1. jeffo Sep 16 2013 at 6:36 am #

    It’s funny how often multiple people have the same ideas around the same time. In some cases, the inspiration comes from those other sources; other times it arises independently.

    I don’t think all the advice is bad, in general, and I’ve certainly found helpful things out there. There are two problems that I see, however: one is when writers give advice as if it is gospel carved in stone, because there are plenty of people out there who are new enough and inexperienced enough to believe it. The second is when people get trapped in doing nothing more than seeking advice. They go around and around and around, never writing anything more than “How do I…” and “Is it okay if…” questions.

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Jeff! Great points. The first one is discussed by both McHenry and Gardner in the posts I mentioned, but it is well worth repeating – there is no “one-size-fits-all” of writing. Your second point is so accurate and important – you definitely nailed it with the word “trapped.” It is far too easy to spend time reading (and even writing) about writing that we never actually do the work of writing. Thanks for the comments!

  2. Dara the Writer Sep 16 2013 at 8:48 am #

    As a newbie in the I’m-trying-to-take-my-writing-seriously realm, I am ALL about searching for advice. I can’t even begin to count the number of blogs, forums, and articles I stalk on a regular basis. I can already feel myself being stuck with doing no actual writing other than asking the almighty Google gods my endless questions and posting the same “how” and “is it” questions Jeffo has mentioned.

    Why WOULDN’T I want to read/hear advice from other writers? Granted, I’m at ground zero, like I mentioned. But to me, looking for writing advice from other writers makes the most sense. Why would I reach to my 95-year-old great-grandmother who’s extremely hard of hearing for tips on planning a novel? Stick in the field.

    I can’t speak for more experienced writers, but I would figure it’s the same thing, right? If you’re a chiropractor, would you go to a convention for the National Association of Proctologists? Exactly.

    I’m stopping my comment now and saving the rest for what I know now to be my next blog post. 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Hi Dara! I think you have a great take on this topic – I love your openness to learning from other writers. (And you made me smirk at the thought of someone searching for a chiropractor at a proctology convention. :)) I hope you do blog about this. If you do, come back here and add a comment with a link to your post. I’ll definitely come check it out!

  3. Cheyenne Sep 16 2013 at 9:04 am #

    This is such a well-timed and appreciated post, Julie! I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, too, but also related to critique partners. I recently received feedback that was the opposite of what every other one of my CPs and one writing instructor on a recent course gave me. After much thought, advice sought, and yes, even articles read on the topic, I’ve been reminded that you have to take everything with a grain of salt, and measure of your own consideration. I disagree with this CP’s feedback, and that’s fine … but I think most importantly, this experience showed me that we each need to weigh the advice from agents, interns, aspiring authors, published authors, friends, and everyone in-between, and make our own, informed decisions — as best we can.

    As someone who for years has been reading writing blogs and craft books, following more experienced writers (and some at the same level as I), taken both online and university courses, I finally think I can say to myself that I have the ability to choose what I feel makes most sense for my writing, from what others say. For a long time, I rushed to copy down every single nugget of advice or piece of criticism that came my way, but it’s overwhelming — and it’s not always right. There ISN’T one right way, and I feel somewhat relieved to finally see that 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      Hi Cheyenne! I’m glad you liked the post, and I appreciate your input here. Crit partner advice is indeed another form of writerly advice. I can imagine how it must have been difficult when someone you’d asked for feedback gave you advice you felt you needed to set aside. It couldn’t have been easy for you, but you put it so well – “…we each need to weigh the advice from agents, interns, aspiring authors, published authors, friends, and everyone in-between, and make our own, informed decisions — as best we can.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Carrie-Anne Sep 16 2013 at 10:58 am #

    I’ve noticed a lot of younger, newer writers tend to take modern, recent writing advice as Gospel, and try to shoehorn everyone into adhering to it, even if it doesn’t apply to everyone. For example, I write third-person omniscient, which can entail a bit more “telling” than many modern readers are used to. It’s just a natural part of the POV and voice, not evidence of being an inferior writer.

    As I’ve become more familiar with modern books, I’ve gradually moved away from the old-fashioned style I used to employ, such as starting with an introduction to the characters and their world, using too many adverbs, and using too many non-standard speaking verbs (particularly in conjunction with adverbs!). But I strongly dislike how so many modern, younger writers think you should never use adverbs or non-standard speaking verbs for any reason, when sometimes they convey things more succinctly and directly than 20 extra words.

    The one piece of writing “advice” I’ve never followed, and have found pretty stupid, is to name your characters current Top 100 names. That’s a surefire way to quickly date your book, along with making you look foolish for predating naming trends. (If I have to see ONE MORE book, published or aspiring to be, with non-child characters with names like Madison, Dakota, Caden, Braden, Aidan, Addison, Skylar….) It also presumes you’re writing contemporary.

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Hi Carrie-Anne! I really appreciate your thoughts here on the way in which your chosen POV and genre can influence voice, word choice, and a zillion other aspects of writing. That’s something I hadn’t thought about, but it makes great sense. Third-person omniscient is vastly different from first-person, so of course the choices you make as a writer will be different, as well. As for your thoughts about names, I’ve not familiar with the advice to choose character names from the current top 100, but I can see how that could, in fact, go horribly wrong. :/ Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Anna J. Boll Sep 16 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    For me, the most important part of writing advice from web or more specifically, the blogosphere, is the commenting. The comments, in the kidlit community, tend to be positive and helpful. One commenter builds on the advice, another contradicts and gives their own two cents. It is about communication and community in an otherwise isolated line of work. That said, nothing beats getting together with my writing friends in person to have these same discussions.

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 10:24 pm #

      Hi Anna! Yes – the comment section! I love to read a great post about some aspect of writing that interests me and then find a fantastic dialogue going on in the comments. We definitely strive to encourage that sense of community here at PubCrawl, and I appreciate your contribution to this ongoing discussion. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. Rowenna Sep 16 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Hey, I like cupcakes, and will buy them from anyone! I do think advice can become kind of a feedback loop–it’s easy to keep reading advice and thinking about writing without actually, um, writing. No matter how much you read and absorb from other writers, I do think the best way to improve your writing is to write. Sure, you can apply things you’ve heard from others and seek out advice when you’re stuck, but I think the wealth of advice is danger in the time-suck category alone!

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 16 2013 at 10:35 pm #

      Rowenna, thank you for making a cupcake comment! (When I posted this, I was sure people would talk about cupcakes in the comments… 🙂 ) I agree with your “feedback loop” analogy – too much reading and writing about writing does not add up to writing, and I know there have been times when I’ve used the constant flow of information as a means of avoiding the work of writing. You said it well – “… the best way to improve your writing is to write.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Dara the Writer Sep 18 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ve finally had the opportunity to share my take on this topic over on my own blog. Sharing this at Julie’s request! 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh
      Julie Eshbaugh Sep 19 2013 at 7:03 am #

      Hi Dara! Thanks for sharing the link to your post – can’t wait to read your take on this topic! 🙂

  8. Linda Fletcher Sep 20 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    I wouldn’t exactly call myself a beginning writer, but I’m definitely in the first quarter to third of my fiction writing career (although I’ve been a marketing writer for years). This post resonated with me because about a year ago, I was so discouraged from all the advice (a good bit of it contradictory) that I read on all the blogs, writing sites, etc. that I was paralyzed–couldn’t write a word, because I just KNEW I was doing it all wrong. Everyone told me so. I ended up taking a month-long sabbatical from looking at any sort of writing sites or writing advice, and that gave me the distance to realize exactly what you mention above–that I needed to take what worked for me and ignore everything else. The Internet can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when everyone can present themselves as an expert. I’ve been writing happily away since then, and am much more productive. And I pick and choose what I read online about writing much more carefully now. Thanks for the great post, Julie! And P.S. I really want a red velvet cupcake now, LOL.

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