Through my studies, work experience, and social exchanges with writers (online and real life) I can say with certainty that we are all quite different from one another. I recognize our differences, but I also see what connects us, and nothing highlights this better than how we respond to the question, ‘Does writing advice work?’
Writing advice is always a divisive topic, especially on social media. I love hearing how established writers define good writing, but some people question the point. They challenge the notion of ‘rules’ in a creative game, even opposing uncontroversial advice, like be specific in your writing and read a lot. But we all learn differently, because we’re all different.
The Nature of Writing.
I’ve never been able to say I take pleasure in writing like others do. It’s too simple for me to say yes. I enjoy it the same way I enjoy climbing a mountain. Parts of it are beautiful, but it’s a lot of hard work. After writing, I look back at what I’ve achieved and feel a sense of accomplishment. And I love fighting with sentences and words, themes and characters, but not how I enjoy sunbathing on a beach. Because, after all, I’m fighting.
Some writers let the words flow, and their first draft is just fine. I, however, find that writing is rewriting. When I picture a writer, I see a person scratching out lines on a printed manuscript. Reading with a red pen in hand. My writer is always editing. But others spend most of their time on the first draft.
And when you’re lacking inspiration? Some take a break, step away from the work and wait. Others battle through, thrashing the keys no matter how they feel. I’m somewhere in between. I battle, especially when I’ve already started a project, but I’ll never force a new project. I wait until the right idea, the right time. There will always be years between my published novels.
The vast differences between writers only reveal the nature of writing. There’s no right way. It’s difficult, and it’s personal. In On Writing Well, William Zinsser wrote, “Some people write by day, others by night. Some people need silence, others turn on the radio. Some write by hand, some by word processor, some by talking into a tape recorder. Some people write their first draft in one long burst and then revise; others can’t write the second paragraph until they have fiddled endlessly with the first.”
Writing Advice is for Everyone.
But we are all connected. What brings us together is that we all produce some kind of literature that comes from within. Based on the many approaches covered in this post, it’s inevitable that we respond differently to writing advice, but I believe that writing advice is there to help all of us. And they’re not ‘rules’. They’re an opportunity to develop, and the great thing about writing advice is that you don’t have to take it, or you can choose from whom to take it.
The whole point of writing advice, and this website, is to help people write well. When writers share good principles, they’re not trying to encourage you to write like they do. They want you to write like yourself. Only you can do that. Following writing principles just helps you communicate what you have to say with more clarity and strength.
And you can always break the ‘rules.’ But break them after you understand them, and after you’ve practiced them. It means you’re breaking the rules from a point of authority, not ignorance. This is how every successful rule-breaker has done it. And you can do it too. But begin with an open mind, and read writing advice with some trust that it’s here to improve you, not stifle your creativity.
Does writing advice work? Absolutely. I believe it’s possible to learn and improve as a writer, and no matter what you pick up from other writers, you will never lose yourself.