Writing Advice is Bullshit, here’s why.

The other week I read an article written by a Daily Beast contributor that started with the title: If You Want to Write a Book, Write Everyday or Quit Now.  A clickbait title if I ever read one but okay, I’ll bite. I’m always game for new points of view, so I read it. Like a lot of writing advice it had good points, and questionable points, and I came out of reading the article with the realization that most writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Why?

A few reasons. Not the least of which is, writers (particularly of fiction) are really good at bullshit. It’s what we do. If there is one thing we understand very well, it is how to bullshit, and draw things out, and some of us, if we’re so inclined, can even make a simple one sentence concept into pages and pages of bullshit. Throughout high school and college, I was the envy of many when it came to essays because 500+ words is a cakewalk when 490 of them are basically rephrasing the topic at hand, and filling the rest with marshmallow level fluff.

There’s a certain poetry in our bullshit at times, I confess. Why write that the sky was dark when you can explain that the sky was a stormy slate grey, then proceed to wax poetic for a few paragraphs or so about Mississippi rainstorms in June. It may not necessarily tell the reader much about the plot, but it gives you a greater feel for the world, and the time in which the story takes place.

This is all well and good in fiction, but in writing advice it tends to be a little more blatant. As in the article above. The author specifically notes that writing everyday is metaphorical (except that it kind of isn’t?) and yet, he needn’t have bothered because it was pretty obvious that they were trying to make a dramatic point with the title.

I’m not opposed to the theory of writing everyday, necessarily. I think you should definitely write as much as possible, but these ‘rules’ that some authors try to lay down strike me as arbitrary and more often than not conflict with one another to the point you have to ask yourself, who’s right? Whose advice do I trust more?

Some say write everyday, some say a draft should only take 3 months, these are good notes, but I’ve had drafts take roughly 3 months and some take 5-6 (depending on how much time I can afford to dedicate to them). It doesn’t help that I don’t keep any kind of accurate track on how long something takes me from start to finish, so honestly it would be disingenuous of me to say I even knew how long the average book draft takes me.

I whole heartedly agree that writing must be taken seriously if it is something you want to do, seriously, but what I’ve come to learn after years of writing and years of reading advice and thought pieces on the subject of writing is, the best advice anyone can give you is to take advice with a grain of salt. Not everything is going to work for you, not everything makes sense for what you want to write. If you write romance, advice on how to write a mystery probably isn’t going to apply. Take what works, and what seems sensible, and then decide for yourself. Challenge your worldview, if you so wish, but don’t just accept a piece of advice as gospel simply because the person who wrote it is an author you admire or someone who claims to be an ‘expert’. Trust yourself, you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for. At the end of the day, all the advice in the world will never compare to taking action and starting your story, and getting to work. There’s no better learning experience than just doing it.

Hitting Pause on the Blog

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One of the best pieces of advice I got in college was the KIS method of design. Keep it simple. Only, I didn’t fully realize what that meant until recently when I read an article on time management, in which it noted:

The basic principle of success is to focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have. – Thomas Oppong –

The Secret to Mastering Your Time is to Systematically Focus on Importance And Suppress Urgency

For a while now, and in particular the past year, I’ve spread myself incredibly thin on a variety of projects. But it all reached a head when, in April, I started creating content for YouTube, and simultaneously tried to blog daily. I was able to be successful at those two things, at the cost of me not writing anything for my novel for the better part of April.

In it’s earliest form, my blog was about furthering my platform, and largely that is still the point of all of the work I’ve been doing. But for me, my multitude of efforts to expand my platform has come at the cost of the very reason I need a platform in the first place. My novels. I tried desperately to balance everything. A full time day job, and my full time job as a writer. Blogging, podcasts, essays, shorts, vlogging. I convinced myself that if enough of these were spread far enough out that I could somehow, someway do them all.

Only, it didn’t work out that way. Perhaps if I had managed my time better I might have been able to make it all work out. But that’s the thing about it. Overworking myself, even with time management can only lead to one eventual outcome. Burnout, which will lead to a complete creative shutdown.

I can’t afford that.

I’ve had to make sacrifices and in the process I’ve decided where I think I should try and focus my efforts more.

I still love blogging.

I’ve done it for the better part of a decade now, and never in my life did I imagine that I would be writing this post, or even considering giving up blogging before I gave up anything else in my new creative endeavors.

This isn’t to say I’m never going to blog again.

I’d like to think that if a post strikes me to be written, I’ll put it out there. Maybe I can go back to the Monday, Wednesday, Friday system (not unlike how I do my vlogs) perhaps instead I’ll do Tuesday, Thurs, Sat so I always have new content somewhere. I haven’t decided yet.

For the time being at least, perhaps just through May, or perhaps a bit longer. I need to put things on pause.

Not writing at all for me is the worst possible scenario, and I would rather not do a lot of things than not write fiction.

The Drive

writeFor as long as I can remember, I have possessed a drive unlike that of perhaps anyone in my family. I have known (for instance) that I wanted to be an author, with little hesitation since I was ten years old, and I have thrown myself into it 120% ever since. This driving force is my greatest strength. I love what I do, and I’ve made it a point to push myself to work harder, do more, do everything I can think of to put myself out there. To build my platform, and help me get my work out there so I can be what I have always wanted to be. My dream for my future has in many ways changed greatly over the years as I get older and I realize what I definitely do want, and definitely don’t.

 

Lately however while I know what I want, doing it is often a lot more difficult than I would have otherwise thought. I’m contemplating a dozen different ways to up the amount of fiction writing I do in any given week (since I think it’s safe to say in the non-fiction category I write daily), I’m not the sort of person who can just force myself to write something if I’m not feeling it, and yet, maybe it’s time I give that more of an effort. Because honestly, even writing I’m not particularly fond of at the moment is still something.

Is it All Worth it?

writeRecently I’ve noticed a frustrating trend. I’ve worked diligently to ensure that I am posting daily blogs, and 3x weekly vlogs as well as bi-weekly podcasts and essays. I’m making it a point to utilize Twitter more and working to use Facebook more, and ultimately continuing work to grow my brand to its greatest potential. But this has come at a cost, in terms of my literary output. I spend so much of my time working on avenues to get my name out there and get my brand out there that I’m not actually doing the one thing that I desperately need to do to make all of this even worth the effort.

Write.

Mostly I am writing every day in the form of blog posts, or essays or ideas for things, but the novel writing, the part that is why I’m doing any of this has slowed considerably, and it makes me wonder, is platform building worth it, if it comes at the cost of me actually writing?

I feel like I’ve had this existential crisis before, but I still haven’t figured out the answer. I want to believe that I can have both in tandem with one another, building a platform while also continuing to write novels, but the evidence thus far is showing that less and less. The more I do one, the less I seem to do the other. Finding that balance has become increasingly tricky and I can’t help but wonder if something will fall by the wayside in the process.

To-Do Lists

I love a to-do list. I love day planners, and figuring out what I need to do (preferably for the week when possible, and I’ve made it a point to ensure I have set days of when I know I need to get things done… that being said, sticking to these lists and not forgetting information, and for that matter following the schedule I’ve set for myself is not as easy as I would otherwise like and I’m not always that great at it.

The other day I read an article about the improved benefits of blocking time rather than simply using to do lists and so I tried it or rather tried to block things out except I didn’t end up following that either.

Most of the time I do well enough with a to-do list. I know what needs to be done sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I get as much done as I know I ought to, which is how I forgot to put the essay up last night even though it was on my list. Or edit a video that I intended to edit the other day for Friday.

I know the more I do it, the better I’ll get but needless to say the struggle is real.

Write for yourself, edit for the reader

There’s a lot of writing advice out there, some of it’s great, some of it is worthless, all of it should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, there is something that I’ve thought about recently and so I wanted to make a point to write about it here.

J.K.Rowling famously admitted that “she didn’t have a reader in mind when she wrote Harry Potter.” She was writing for herself, and it’s a fairly common notion for most writers that they ought to write mostly for themselves or as Toni Morrison says: “If there’s a book you want to read that hasn’t been written, you must write it.” Writing for yourself, and writing the sort of book you want to read is crucial, but eventually a reader will have to be a part of your thought process.

Editing is the perfect time for this because you’re already making major changes to your work and it’s expected that a lot of changes will probably be happening already in the course of you editing/rewriting your work (particularly if publication is ever the gain). This is the time in which you would want to ensure you were taking the time to consider what type of reader your work ought to have? What do they like to read and what are some expectations for the genre you’re writing in? This isn’t to say that you can’t bend or even break the rules, but you should at least know what the rules are in order to know why they ought to be followed or not followed depending on the work. Knowing who your potential reader might be can only help you in the long run. Is it YA? Romance? Sci-Fi? Or a little of the three, muddying the waters of genre is never a bad thing, but it can complicate the question of who is your book written for.

Is It Just Me?

A few years ago, I got to peak behind the curtain of one of my all time favorite authors in the BBC documentary A Year in the Life: J.K.Rowling edition. It was as she was finishing Deathly Hallows, it was a J.K.Rowling we had never really seen before, and I absolutely loved it. I remember there was this conversation in which she talked about some of the earlier Potter books and how rushed she felt, and how much she sometimes wishes she could change things.

Even though I’ve always known how the process works, and that it’s largely the same for every author, seeing that she went through the same struggles I did was oddly comforting. Somewhere in my mind I just pictured her (and really a lot of big authors) as being ones who just wrote things perfectly and never doubted a thing they wrote. Did they ever question their ideas or their thoughts? Was there ever a doubt about where things were going or what people might question?

Of course I know logically, that I’m not the only author who has ever second-guessed this or that, and I know that I’m certainly not the only one who reads what they have written and thinks, well that’s not right. Yet as a reader I can’t imagine what she would have done ‘better’ or different.

Creative Idea Bouncing

Over the weekend one of my good friends from High School, Kat, came over. We got to catching up on our lives, what we’d been up to over the last few months since we’d last seen one another, and invariably the conversation turned to our writing endeavors and how things were going with that. As with most conversations about creativity we also talked about how our stories were going, and I learned that when it comes to world building, she gets seriously involved. Whereas I fly by the seat of my pants and only know as much about the world of my current work in progress because I’ve been writing it for 13 some odd years, she created an intricate world in the span of two days, which I greatly admire and low-key envy.

As also often happens when it comes to conversations regarding creativity, we bounced some ideas off of one another, and suddenly I found a new found excitement to get to writing the sequel to my work in progress that I’d otherwise been lacking. Just thinking about this story and everything that I’d like to do, really has me eager to get to work as quickly as possible. I had written a little bit earlier in the day with questionable results, but after my conversation with my friend, I suddenly had a new found desire to write again. I’m still trying to master the art of, not caring how the writing starts (which is to say not editing myself before it’s time), but it’s definitely a struggle for me, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to turn it off so much as just try to silence it.

When Is It Complete?

I’ve noticed, increasingly as of late, a fair amount of articles aimed to answer one of the toughest questions a writer can face: How do you know your novel is finally done? The short answer is, probably never, but the truth is, ask any author and the long answer is, it’s complicated, and it depends on the book. In an ideal world, once you write the words The End, this would in fact be the end of your novel, and all the work you would need to say that your novel was complete. But nothing could be further from the truth. Novels take a great deal of work, in editing, rewriting, re-editing. It can take dozens of drafts (not simply the 3 that High School English classes would have you believe), and even then, you may never feel that it’s actually done.

I’ve struggled to learn to let go of the attempt at ‘perfection’ and over the course of my writing career this has been the longest and most exhausting struggle. Perfection is a mythology created by anxiety to convince you that you truly aren’t good enough. But who gets to decide who is and isn’t good enough? I don’t wish to decry any author as good or bad, because honestly this is only a matter of opinion; there are many authors who I just do not care for, who are wildly popular. There are books that I couldn’t get into that are best sellers and cultural phenomenon. I love Harry Potter, my friends love it, frankly most people I know love it, but there are people out there, people I’ve met and talked to, who could never get into it. And I was almost one of them. The difference between liking something and not liking something is just kinda random.

The point is that art is subjective, and not everyone is going to like what you do. It can be hard not to take it personally, our art is something we feel a great emotional connection to. It’s something we’ve likely spent years on, it’s a deep and spiritual connection.

So when is it done? I wish I could tell you. The truth is, like most things there isn’t an easy answer, nor is there necessarily one that’s going to be satisfactory to everyone. Writing is a complex and personal process that requires each person to decide for themselves when it’s complete. There isn’t a universal because writing isn’t a universal, one size fits all endeavor. I’d like to think that my story is complete, at least until an agent/editor suggests changes, but I’m sure there is always going to be something I second guess and wonder if I couldn’t have done it better another way.

Short Burst of Inspiration

This week, after my best friend came over for a visit, and we began to bounce some ideas off of each other, I had a short burst of creative inspiration for the sequel to my previous work-in-progress. Talking about our mutual love for our stories got me excited to get back to work on the project, and for a brief moment, when I started writing, I thought my creative slump might be over. I can’t say for certain that it isn’t. Truth be told, I haven’t felt I had much time to write since that first little creative burst, but it was exciting enough at the time to make me feel as though the possibility was still alive. I could, with any luck still get a fair amount of writing completed.

I’m working to get myself more organized with my current projects, to ensure that I’m doing some of the heavy lifting now rather trying to do everything at the same time, I’m spreading things out and making specific days in which I know that I should get the most amount of work done based on the fact that these are my days off from my day job. Technically this will be the first week of this new schedule, so I’m hoping that it will work out for me ultimately and I’ll be able to utilize my time better in order to be able to write and read more.