Apr 5, 2016
The internet is brimming with writing advice -- both good
and bad. Episode 039 of Write Now talks about how to determine
which advice is worth following, and gives you a rundown of what I
think are the worst offenders.
Bad advice is bad.
I think we've all received bad general advice at one time or another, such as:
"Gun it! You can totally make it through that yellow light."
"Aw, come on. You can totally handle one more drink."
"You don't really need to study for the bar exam."
"Your kids would totally respect you more if you dyed your hair blue."
Sometimes it's easy to tell whether advice is good or bad --
it's just up to us to make the correct decision. But other times,
the line between good and bad is a bit more blurry.
Discerning good advice from bad advice.
Advice, like so many things, is relative. Advice that's good for one person might be bad for another person (think of medical advice as an example here).
So when you receive a piece of advice that sounds pretty good, ask yourself:
Is it true?
Who is giving me this advice? (Are they trustworthy?)
Why is this person giving me this advice?
Alex Cavoulacos of themuse.com offers two more great
questions to ask when considering the source of the advice, in
her article called "A Simple Test That Will Help You Tell If You're
Getting Bad Advice":
"The vast majority of advice you’ll be given in your life will be one of two types: Either ‘Do what I did’ or ‘Do what’s best for me right now.’ Make sure you take the time to identify if either is the case before taking the advice at face value."
If either is the case, that doesn't immediately mean the advice is bad -- it just means that you have extra context to consider.
And again, advice is only ever just advice. It's not a marching
order, and so it's your responsibility to consider it fully
before taking or not taking it.
The worst writing advice.
Here's my list of the worst offenders:
"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." --
This is simply untrue. I love to write, but at the same time I
recognize that it is often frustrating and incredibly hard
"Art is never finished, only abandoned." -- This quote from da Vinci may ring true, but it's terrible writing advice. It seems to be saying that if you decide a piece is finished (and gasp! submit it for publication), you're abandoning it, which is shameful and guilt-inducing. When a mother bird pushes her baby birds out of the nest, she's not abandoning them -- she's sending them out into the world to flourish and grow.
"You can't force good writing." -- Au contraire! If you've written for a deadline before and produced anything decent, you've likely forced good writing. Now, what you may not be able to force is creativity -- but if you take this as writing advice, all you're going to get is the license to be lazy.
"I'm against schedules. Write when you feel excited by the prospect." -- This one is from novelist Rick Moody, and it happens to be bad advice for me. (Though it might be great advice for you!) I'm just so busy that if I never scheduled in my writing time, I would never get to do it -- even though I love it.
"You need [X] to write." -- Here, "X" can be coffee, booze, a lucky pencil, a program like Scrivener, a specific typewriter, or any other crutch. If someone tells you that you need "X" to write, they are probably trying to sell you "X". The only thing you need to write is you.
"Write what you know." -- Just... ugh. I hope you know how terrible and limiting this can be. Please do not take it as writing advice. Ever.
What about you? What's the worst (or best) writing advice you've ever received? Let me know in the comments below!
The Book of the Week.
I AM STILL READING Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. I am SO SORRY ABOUT THAT.