I’ve noticed a bunch of bad writing advice lately, or perhaps by ‘bad’ I really mean that I disagree with it. Whenever someone says “There is only one way of doing things” I usually take out my bullshit-o-meter. If there was one right way, then following the rules would automatically make a perfect something (It would also mean that all books would turn out the same). That is not the case. Also, where’s the fun in that?
So here are a few pieces of advice I’d like to debunk:
It’s useless to ask a writer about their process.
Sometimes, when you’re starting out, you don’t have a process yet. You still need to figure it out, and that takes some trial and error. Sometimes, trying bits and pieces of other people’s methods is the only way to figure out your own.
Personally, I like hearing about how other people work. It gives options I might not have considered (like a treadmill desk?!), ideas for how to be more efficient with my time, or how to tackle a specific problem I’ve been having.
But, there is a nugget of truth here: in the end, no one’s process is the same. However, some parts might be close enough. We don’t have to learn everything from scratch, or rebuild the wheel.
“Take that recipe, put a your own spin on it, and then its yours.” Thank you, Food Network.
Your first novel will be trash. You need to trunk a few novels before being able to write anything publishable.
This one is absolutely false. There are plenty of examples of writers successful with their first manuscripts (Rothfuss, Rowling, Gabaldon).
This bit of advice doesn’t take into account some very important factors: non-novel writing experience (Gabaldon wrote articles for computer magazines, and founded/edited the Science Software Quarterly journal), how much time was spent revising/editing or working on the manuscript (Rothfuss took 7 years to write The Name of the Wind), or how long a writer has been working on story-craft (Stephen King started with short stories).
So yes, it is possible to write an excellent first novel. However, the writers that pull this off may have spent countless hours writing non-fiction, or doing writing related work that you might never see or know about. All writing, not just novel writing, counts towards those proverbial million words of crap. But the truth here? There are no shortcuts to putting in the time (unless you are a genius, or really really lucky).
You can’t teach writing.
If you can learn something, it can be taught. The thing is, people have different learning styles. A traditional classroom setting might benefit some people, but other people might require a more hands on approach (write and have your flaws pointed out), or learn best by example (reading a ton). Some people need structure, while others abhor it. Whatever the case, it’s learning. The trick is finding out how you learn best. It may be a combination of those things
The truth here is, there’s no formula for writing (unless you’re writing technical manuals), so it is very difficult to teach. You can teach craft, sure, but writing is also an art. I think the best teachers are more like guides or mentors who can help you figure out how to achieve what you want in your writing, stylistically, thematically etc. An experienced mentor is gold.
As with all advice “Your mileage may vary.” Your car is a custom ride, baby! You should know what you need better than anyone else.
Just for fun, what’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
P. S. I’m probably guilty of dispensing some bad advice myself.