Writer Wednesday: Writing Advice to Take with A Grain of Salt
Good morning and welcome to the middle of the week, my fellow cool kids. I do hope you are finding ways to cool off and cool down during the heat for those of us in the Western hemisphere. The world might be on fire but many of us have to keep on keeping on. With some 'patented writing advice' making the rounds on the interwebs once again, today's topic is timely. That's right, we are talking about Writing Advice and specifically, that advice you can take with a grain of salt, or the whole salt shaker. Writing advice as a whole, really, should always be taken with a grain a salt because it is advice, suggestions that could or could not be useful to you, the individual. Every writing journey is unique and some advice will prove more useful to you than others but there are some bits advice that are being put forth as 'canon'. In reality, no writing advice works for 100% of authors, even the sort of advice that seems like it should. Today I am tossing a few pieces out there that have been making some noise.
Writing Advice to Take with a Grain of Salt
Write Every Day- Ah the old write every day adage. Now, some authors do aspire to this piece of writing advice. However, this is DEFINITELY not one for everyone and in fact, for some authors it can be rather harmful to take this advice to heart. If you don't write every day, you are not a failure as an author. This is an unrealistic ideal for authors with chronic illness, or neuro-divergent, or dealing with any myriad of issues. If you are juggling parenthood, school, job, or anything, some days the tank is simply empty and that is okay. It is also okay to take breaks for extended periods of time. You don't lose the ability to write if you need to take weeks or months off because your life/ physical/ emotional/ mental health needs more attention right now. The words will be waiting for you when you are ready.
You Need A Beta Reader- This is a touchy one. A good beta reader can really make a story shine. They can spot weak points in your plot, help shore up characters that need a little more love, be your biggest cheer leaders, and more. However, a bad beta reader can shake your foundations. They might give advice that counter productive or counter intuitive to what your story needs. This is generally not from any malicious intent but they might not be a good match for your genre, or your story, or your writing style and vice versa. A Beta Reader is not always necessary either. Many authors have submitted stories that went on to be signed by agents or small presses that never saw a beta reader. A beta reader can be helpful for polishing a piece but they are not an absolute requirement for a story's success.
If A Story is Shelved, It's a Failure- This one makes me want to scream to the rafters because this business is so subjective. And the querying environment is absolutely brutal right now. There are so many great stories that are not getting the noise and attention they deserve and it's not because they are failures, but rather the cost of a choked publishing market, over worked and understaffed houses, even lengthier wait times for responses, and dozen other consequences of current industry conditions. If an author is dead set on traditional publishing they may be in for a lot of disappointment and heart ache. And even though there are myriad opportunities for authors right now in various forms and forums, there are also many that fall through, that don't thrive, or don't pan out how they wish. However, at no point in any of this, does it mean that shelving a story means it's a failed story. It may simply be a matter of timing.
Good Writing Requires Higher Education- Writers can come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe, yet somehow, this engrained level of snobbery has taken root that authors are required to have a degree or even an MFA to be taken seriously. Honestly, there should be no shade in either direction. Putting yourself through the debt and coursework for a degree in creative writing is a personal choice, but so is putting yourself through the paces and work to be self taught. Both are equally valid and whether you learned your craft in the classroom or through trial and error, the end results are what you make of them. And a good editor will make mincemeat of your manuscript (lovingly) no matter where you picked up your craft. There are plenty of best selling authors who never took a single creative writing class and plenty of MFA students who never crack best seller status. Your educational status will mean little when it comes to the actual market success of a book. Claiming this as good advice boils down more to gate keeping than anything else.
As stated in the intro, all writing advice is just that: Advice. Nothing works for everybody and even within your own circle of writing buddies, you will find conflicting strategies of what works for them vs you. Don't be afraid of trial and error in finding the style that best suits you as a writer.