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.

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.

Siren Call

Where were you when you first got the itch to write? What were you doing? Did it come upon you suddenly like a cold or did it slowly creep upon you like an infection; so slowly that you weren’t aware of it’s existence until the fever began.fri_Fri

Or perhaps you heard the siren call of creativity for years, beaconing you towards the rocks. You never quite knew what it was but it was always there, silently waiting. What did it feel like the first time you put words to the page? Was it exhilarating? Enchanting? Or was it immediately terrifying?

Did you feel the weight of your predecessors, the many masters of the craft on your shoulders? Did you even know where to begin?

How we write and what we write may be different, but the why is the same. We have a story, just begging to be told.

What’s your story? And how did you get there?

What I Know For Sure: Writing Edition

days3 copyYou can be whatever you want when you grow up, they used to say. What they didn’t say was, as long as it makes money.

I’ve been writing almost all of my life, since I was ten years old my greatest dream in life has been to be a published author. Creating stories out of nothing is thrilling, and there is no greater delight to me than a fresh, new story, with new characters to explore and new settings to traverse. The trouble is, artists aren’t known for being particularly wealthy, or at least, not many of them and usually not when their alive. Some of the greatest artists in fact, died penniless, giving art the reputation of being not a real job. Which is why for the better part of the last few years I’ve had to deal with certain members of my family getting down my throat for the fact that I had been a full time student/artist rather than getting a ‘real’ job.

What isn’t real about what I do?

The lack of money, currently, is the only answer.

I have a ‘real’ job now by the way. It’s good work, full time and I really enjoy doing it, it’s slowed my writing a bit but, it certainly hasn’t stopped me, that said, the idea that this job which is paying me is somehow more real and more worthwhile an endeavor than writing is still confusing to me. More to the point, why tell young people that they can be anything they want when we don’t mean it and don’t really believe it? What good is lying to them?

My mother has always been supportive of my art, it’s why she never asked me to get a job while I was in college, and I appreciate that, but for those who don’t support their child’s dreams to be an artist, any sort of artist, should you really say, you can be anything you want, if you don’t really mean it? Writing is my one great passion, and the one thing I have really loved to do for as long as I can remember. It’s the reason I wake up in the morning and it’s as much my dream to be published today as it ever was. Writing is one of the few things in my life that I still know for sure I want to do, even when I doubt anything else in my life or second guess anything else, I never second guess that.

Is It Just Me?

days5 copyI’ve made a point of pointing out that I don’t read my own books and with good reason. Late last night while writing book three I asked my friend if she remembered a character’s hair color as described in book 1. She was able to find it relatively quickly (I was too scared to even open the book) but as it was sitting on my bed I ended up picking up the book anyway and like like some kind of editing junky I found myself looking over the first few pages and before I knew it, I had grabbed a pencil and was making changes. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate parts about being a self published author is that relative obscurity makes it easy to make changes without a lot of fan fair… sure the people who’ve already read it would know… I have to wonder… does every author feel like this from time to time, or is it just me? Artists are on the whole perfectionists. My cover designer, has proven that and a few authors I know (who haven’t even gone the self publishing route yet) it seems to be in our nature, but the question is… if the book is already out there and you want to make changes what do you do? These aren’t changes that anyone has been demanding, and no one has really had anything negative to say about the book (thus far). But as a self published author, if I notice discrepancies or changes that need to be made is it not my duty to make those changes? Had I been taken on by a traditional publishing house (which I rarely don’t think about, but in this case I have too) these changes would either have been required long ago, or simply not possible currently, but as my current goal is to put out the absolutely best possible book I can, any and all changes should be welcomed, not scorned. Perhaps… (and there is a very very good chance of this). I’m simply over thinking things.

…Or Are They Just Out of Ideas?

days5 copyWith all due deference to both authors I’ve begun to notice a trend lately between Stephen King and James Patterson (there may be others but I’m noticing it more with them) that more recent books from them have been co-authored with someone else. At first I thought maybe it was just a new trend, perhaps it makes for more interesting literature like the mother-daughter duo who wrote the bestselling ‘House of the Night’ series. Admittedly I’ve never actually read the series but it’s very popular which makes me wonder, is co-authoring the new vampire novel… or are they just running out of ideas?

Maybe one or two books I would think it’s just authors trying something new, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on at least three from both authors, and I’m sure there are plenty of other authors out there doing it, but the question to me is why? And secondly…how? I am very personal with my writing, the idea of letting someone else, particularly another author come in seems horrifying.

It’s worth noting that in both cases, some of the authors that both James Patterson and Stephen King are co-authoring with are to my knowledge unknown. So perhaps it’s in the same spirit of unknown singers being featured on the albums of very well known singers in the hopes of getting people interested in that unknown singer or conversely getting a different generation interested in the older singer.

What do you think? Is this the same as new/unknown artists being featured on the album of bigger artists or are authors running out of new ideas?

Reading My Own Work

days4 copyThere’s something that’s always felt incredibly strange about reading my own work. It’s almost foreign enough that it’s hard to believe you wrote it and yet familiar somehow. Like a friend you haven’t seen in years and yet can instantly catch up with as if no time has passed. If it’s good it feels even more hard to believe that you actually wrote it, particularly because I’m notoriously difficult to please, as my post Monday explained. I know perfection may be impossible but perhaps making my book good enough that I would actually want to read it would be a little more plausible. It’s hard work, but definitely a task I’m willing to undertake. I’m both excited and terrified to be reading my own words, at length, in one go as one would normally read a book rather than in fragments as I often do when writing/editing. It’s one thing to read over short bursts of my work like I do when writing a blog post, even if I don’t necessarily like it, or want to second guess what I’m saying or whether it’s worth posting there’s a part of me that (perhaps because of the impending deadline of posting everyday) feels like I can take the risk more than I can with a book. Not to mention it’s a shorter medium where much of the rules of novel writing don’t necessarily apply, and there’ll be a new and hopefully better post the next day in case this one does badly.

the Rook: A Review

thurs

Okay confession time: I haven’t quite finished this yet. It’s proving trickier than I had anticipated, given that it’s kind of exhausting, so this is sort of a part I review maybe? There’s really no excuse as to why I wasn’t able to finish a book this week other than, reading a book in a week is a lot more challenging than I initially anticipated, but I will say that I plan to work on a new book for this coming week. Not sure which one yet.

eh…

I first came across the Rook through, I believe a BuzzFeed article that had recommended it on a list of books you would like if you loved Harry Potter. (Though my search for such an article did not pull up a recommendation for the Rook, so I may be mistaken). The concept sounded interesting enough, a woman awakens with no memories, strange powers, and several letters addressed to herself from a mysterious person who claims to be the previous inhabitant of her body. I even read through a preview of the book on Amazon to make sure I’d even like it, and I loved what I’d read, so I went out and bought the paperback from Barnes and Noble and read, the first two chapters?

Then everything came to a grinding halt, suddenly nothing was really happening, and the interesting concept of strange letters, became a cheap plot device to offer backstory to the reader, and the main character. It was almost tolerable for a time, but the more the story went on, the more cheap the plot device felt, and the more tiresome it became. Knowing that this character’s life is supposed to be in danger seems almost hard to believe with how mundane things become by chapter three. Then there’s the transitions into the letters themselves which in one case in particular feels like a gag straight out of a cartoon, in which the main character Myfanwy, thinks that she should ‘learn more about how exactly this place (her work) works’, and the title of the next letter is ‘how exactly this place works’. It would be amusing, in the setting of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but it’s altogether out of place in a world in which the main character’s life is supposed to be in danger, is this a drama or a comedy? At best it’s neither, and the ‘jokes’ that can be found at best, barely elicit a smile, let a lone a laugh. By the time I came to that point in the story I had had just about all I could take of cutting back and forth between letters and what passes for action in this story.

In an effort to feel as though I’d actually gotten through the story, I opted to listen to the audiobook for a chapter or two only to find that I’d retained almost nothing of the story from it. Both because still little had happened, and because the reader of the audiobook was unquestionably awful. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by years of Jim Dale, but why does it seem finding a good audiobook reader is a next to impossible task?

Not since the Corrections have I endured a book so frustrating, though not because it’s simply terrible at it’s core but because the concept is rather interesting and yet the execution is unquestionably dull. It happens to be the first book in a series and honestly, after this I wouldn’t pick up the next one.

**

Don’t read.

Ultimately I can’t in good conscience suggest reading this book. I mean unless you have trouble sleeping, or you think I’m being too harsh. Regardless of your thoughts on Harry Potter, the two books are not even in the same hemisphere, save for the fact they both contain ‘magic’ and take place in the U.K.

Devillicious Book Club… of sorts

dvlbc

There are a lot of authors I’m not particularly a fan of, some of whom I’ve discussed more publicly than others. Some of these authors I dislike purely for their personalities, others because of their inexplicable popularity. But whatever the reason, I realize that in order to properly discuss these writers, I’m going to have to at least read one book.

This year, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will be sharing a chapter by chapter summary of my thoughts on 12 such authors. I’m going to try and go about this as unbiased as I can.  I may even include live tweeting of my thoughts so if you don’t already follow @NarcissaDeville you should probably do that, because I think this is going to be exhausting  fun.  Each starting post will include my thoughts on the author before hand, and what book I chose.

For the first three months I already have some ideas in mind of what book I want to look at, however I’m completely open to suggestions.

January: Jonathan Franzen

February: Gillian Flynn

March: Stephanie Meyer

April: John Green

May: E.L. James

June: Amanda Hocking

July: Nicholas Sparks

August: Brett Easton Ellis

September: Kurt Vonnegut

October: Ernest Hemingway

November: John Grisham

December: James Patterson