Friday, July 1, 2011

New Piece of Advice: Stop Listening to Advice

The writer blogosphere is full of writing advice. My blog is no exception. I'm bursting with advice. Mostly because I want to say something useful. But the more I interact with other writers, the more I realize that there's plenty of writing advice that has been repeated to me over and over again that just. Doesn't. Work for me.

Advice I Haven't Taken:

1. Keep a writer's notebook

This isn't a bad idea. I know it works for what seems like 75% of the writing population, if not more. But I can't for the life of me make it work. I have tried on fifty separate occasions, at least, and that's why I have far too many notebooks with only a few pages filled in. It's like keeping a journal. I can't do that either.

And recently I said to myself, screw it. Don't try to keep a writer's notebook. Use your brain like a sifter-- if the ideas are good, they'll stay in. If they're not, it's better they slipped through the cracks anyway. That is my official philosophy. And you know what? It works for me. Good ideas keep coming up again and again; I don't lose them. I remember the things that are important to me. Everything else I forget.

2. Write at the same time every day.

Oh, heavens. I try this every day. People ask me, what's your best writing time? And I used to say: nighttime. Or: first thing in the morning. Or: just after lunch. But all of those answers are lies, lies I tell you! My best writing time is when I decide to sit down and write. And in the mornings I have a doctor's appointment or a haircut or my apartment is too messy to deal with, I don't write. And in the afternoons when I'm going to hang out with a friend or take a much-needed nap, I don't write. Why? Because in order to get the writing done, I have to feel free. I can't resent the work I'm doing. So I choose to look forward to it instead of dreading a particular time of day.

I have found that, rather than making myself write at the same time every day, I make myself write at least once a day. It doesn't matter when that is or how much I get done. I just have to do it. Sometimes you do have to force yourself to do something, but it doesn't have to be in the same way as other people force themselves to do something. (Does that make any sense?)

3. Never go back and edit while you're still writing

I am usually a HUGE proponent of this piece of advice, so take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. Sometimes I write something and it feels so wrong and out of place that I can't continue. So I get stuck there, snacking and staring at the page, for days. And the only way to get myself out of the stuck place is to go back and fix what I know is clearly wrong. Usually I go back and bandage it temporarily (that is, not in a detailed way) and then go back and make it all better when I'm done with the draft, so that I don't spend too much time on it. But yes, sometimes I go back, but only when my forward motion has been compromised.

There are probably more, but let's move on.

One thing I learned while on tour is what I'm telling you now: that every writer works differently. Aprilynne Pike, for example, outlines everything. The whole series. She says she has to know how things end before she can start. Josephine Angelini has outlines so detailed they cover about two pages at a time, plus character bios. Ellen Schreiber, however, figures things out as she goes along. I do the same thing-- until I hit page 120 or so, and the story seems too large for me to carry in my mind, and then I make a list of scenes.

We are completely different writers. But we all wrote books. (Some of us multiple books!) We all got published. Clearly there is no formula. You aren't missing the magical secret to book-writing, I promise.

The real point I'm making here is: you don't have to do what doesn't work for you. There are no rules telling you that you have to write a certain way, and if people imposing rules on you has kept you from writing, please throw those rules away. The pieces of advice are there to make writing easier for you, but if they don't work, they are useless to you, and that is okay.

So yes: read the writing advice posts! They are wonderful. And try what they tell you to do! Try it more than once, actually. But if you find that a particular piece of advice, while good and valuable for others, is not good and valuable for you, don't fret about it. Figure out something else.

Figure out what works. Writing is hard enough without putting obstacles in your own path.


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