I decided to dedicate 2017 as the year I would question the validity of writing advice. Reexamine the rules and regulations drilled into writers via our writer friends and groups and which pop up on blogs and respected writing magazines. When you are new, or even more experienced, the message is to learn as much as possible. To do otherwise is to willingly handicap yourself.
Very little is said about writing for joy or as an expression of characters, stories, and feelings we’ve been carrying in our heads for years. Instead, we’re told to worry about genre and making sure we stick to the expectations while at the same time striving to break the mold. We’re told to start building an online presence before we even have a rough draft completed. Don’t forget to be active on social media and review every book we’ve ever read on Goodreads and Amazon. We’re told to start following agents and publishers on Twitter. Oh, and don’t forget to follow every blog known to man. Again, all before that rough draft is even done. It all comes across as people pleasing and discourages rocking the boat if you want to get published.
At some point, at least for me, it became too much; nothing but noise, a massive distraction, incredibly repetitive, and maybe even pointless. But who am I to question? I know nothing. Surely, I must be wrong because one does not disagree with such tried and true platitudes. Or can you?
Though this post from Anne R. Allen focuses on questioning the dogma which surrounds book marketing, I think the overall point is important. As writers, we should be skeptical of the dogmatic thinking within writing and publishing. It’s okay to wonder if the advice dispensed in Stephen King’s On Writing, a book considered by many to be an almost Bible of sorts for writers, still holds water. It’s okay to question what a blogger swear is the Absolute Truth and the Only Way To Do This is, indeed, the case. Pay close attention and it will quickly become apparent of the contradictory advice and rules. How confusing.
There are a few rebels willing to state don’t believe everything you read or told. What works for one author isn’t what will work for everyone despite confident assertions. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve come away with it. Go ahead and be skeptical. Realize one size does not fit all. Every institution and industry needs people willing to doubt the validity of standard practices and dogmatic thinking. As Allen points out in her blog post, much of the marketing advice is outdated. I’d argue much of the writing advice out there is outdated or will become outdated. Even some grammar rules are debated and changed.
I’m not saying everything out there is rubbish. It’s great to get ideas on how to improve productivity or tools to organize your thoughts or to learn more about structure or strengthen your grammar. At the same time, don’t be afraid to wonder if you need an 8-page long character sheet. Don’t be afraid to dismiss a book’s advice to fully diagram your story before writing a rough draft. Don’t be afraid to be anti-Oxford comma. You’re not a failure or any less of a writer. Also, don’t be trouble by NOT reading everything upon the subject of writing or publishing. At the end of the day what’s most important is writing your story; not if you have thousands of followers on Twitter. The writing itself should speak for itself and is what will attract readers.