NF – Writing advice

I wonder about writing advice. I know many people who like to give it, but I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who has benefited from it. I’ve seen people heed it, and strangle themselves with it. I’ve seen people ignore it and flourish. I see it on Facebook and Twitter all the time, liked and shared so their worlds know it too. But it’s from people who have already learned the lessons.

I learned by doing. I’m going to keep learn by doing. I see people advising others to use certain words more often, or avoid other words entirely. I’ve been shunned in the industry for my affection for adverbs. Use longer words. Stop using the word ‘it’ or ‘smile’ or ‘eyes’ or…. If I may put in my two cents, they would be directed – not at the readers of these kinds of posts – but at the advisers.

Stop it. Stop giving wholesale writing advice. Stop assuming you know what’s wrong with everyone’s writing.

There are times when ‘it’ is a perfectly reasonable word to use. There’s no reason to use the word ‘simper’ when ‘smile’ will do. There is value in simplicity, and in readability. The last thing I want my readers to do is set my writing aside in order to look something up.

Tell the story!

Choose words that are in character. I want my readers to know whose point of view the scene is from even if I never state it outright. They know because Sarah’s an actress, and she’s always going on about this or that pop culture character. They know because Jack’s British, so he’s going to call it a penknife. Victor’s old, so he uses antiquated words simply because he was around when those words were new. It’s not about impressing the reader with your vast vocabulary. They don’t care.

Let’s get one thing straight – this segment of my blog is not my giving writing advice, though it may seem like it at times. It’s more a catalog of lessons I’ve learned and thoughts I have about writing. But the more I immerse myself in this world, in the culture that is authorship and the publishing industry, the more I realize I was a better writer without their advice.

I write to entertain, mostly myself. And to be clear, I’m highly entertained at my writing. I love the characters and the story they tell. Every jazz hands by Sarah, every annoyed glare by Moce, or Emma’s every seamless transition into a new role.

I have also heard advice to read often, and to read everything. That doesn’t work for me. I’m not inclined to waste my time on something if I’m bored. I’d rather expose myself to what I truly like. If I want my sense of humor to be more quixotic, I’ll read Don Quixote. If I want it to be more political commentary, I’ll read Douglas Adams. I love Ted Dekker’s style, so that’s who I read the most. I don’t want to contaminate my writing with Stephanie Meyer, and there are too many truly talented options to spend my time on instead.

If you’re looking for writing advice, get beta readers. People you know and trust to read and respond to your writing. “I didn’t follow that,” is a thousand times more useful than “you used an adverb there.” Congratulations. They passed sixth grade.

Beta readers, on the other hand, can give you specific advice about your style, and what they love and don’t like. A good editor will notice trends and advise you accordingly. In the end, your audience is the true goal, not the industry. There are a thousand books that have been published that are absolutely terrible, and ten thousand books that are phenomenal and will never see the light of day because the industry is too preoccupied with themselves.

Don’t give up hope.

So please, world, I  beg you: please stop giving writing advice and just read. Read what you love. Purchase books that suit your tastes. If you’re writing, get read. Don’t be shy, yet don’t fill your plate with every bit of advice you can find, because most of it won’t apply to you.

If you have something you’d like me to read and respond to, I’d be more than happy to provide that for you. I need those people too!

Go! Be you! Write!

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