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.

May Favorites feat. Happy Sassy B.

A staple of YouTubers across the spectrum is the monthly favorites vlog in which one discusses their favorite things of the month. Or at least, that’s how I understand it in the most basic sense. Honestly I’ve never watched a Monthly Favorites video, so I decided to go about it my own way; breaking it down into multiple categories that relate to things I enjoy and/or care about.
Category Is… May Favorites…

Best Laid Plans

Well that didn’t quite go to plan.

I had almost made it an entire month of blogging every single day when somewhere along the way I got derailed. I lost the momentum because I was struggling for ideas, and the notion of going on vacation was starting to make me perhaps a touch lazy. (This is perhaps the first vacation I can remember in which I wrote absolutely nothing– didn’t even take my laptop with me).

Now in (admittedly early) May, I’m a bit behind in multiple things. I didn’t end up recording anything of Drag Con for a vlog (as I somewhat suspected I wouldn’t), and I’m a week behind in blogs and just general writing. It seems my outline that I was so sure I was going to make my writing the sequel to my current work that much easier has not proven true as of yet and I find myself currently trying to find said outline so I might get back to work after a well needed vacation.

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.

Shameless Self Promotion

I always thought I wasn’t the greatest at using hashtags to get anything accomplished, mostly because in spite of my near constant use of tags in just but everything I could manage, it never quite seemed to work out for me as it did for everyone else I could see using them. Perhaps it was that I was just slightly unnerved by ‘shameless self promotion’ that I viewed it as this thing I really didn’t want to be a part of. Except that I had to, and it works. The first time I learned how well it worked, was when I decided to self publish my first novel and came upon a website that was something like authors helping authors. You like as many as you can, you follow for follow, post a little note that that’s why you’re liking and following and you’d get someone following you back. Only it’s a frustrating way to grow your page to my mind and I ended up following pages that in the long run I didn’t actually want to see their content.

It was unlike Twitter where I felt my feed had grown so naturally (though I’ve been stuck between 199-201 followers for years now). I also learned that power when I first starting blogging daily and grew my blog a few years ago, up to 400+ followers from liking and commenting on other bloggers posts, in addition to creating my own daily.

Now that I’m vlogging, and doing a podcast, I’m starting to learn to use social media and tags to my advantage across platforms. I’ve been using Instagram to share a note about my latest vlogs with #vlog #YouTube #trans. These are all accurate to me one supposes, and it’s a way to spread myself further. One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn is to get off my high horse when it comes to self-promotion. It’s something everyone has to do and honestly it produces results. I’m not spamming people with FOLLOW ME, FOLLOW ME, FOLLOW ME, but it’s my social media which is there to help my brand, so I have to share myself in order to get more people interested in me.

Audiobooks or Physical?

In 2007, I waited in line for the last time for the midnight release of a Harry Potter novel. The Deathly Hallows. It was the end of an era, and for me the end of one of the best parts of my childhood during those parties. My mother and I were to go to California immediately after picking up the book, and since it was the last one, my mother decided that she wanted to enjoy the book too. After the party we ran to Walmart and picked up a copy of the audiobook edition. The first audiobook I’d ever had. I remember Walmart had made a point to close down the store for an hour or so before midnight and brought out two huge palettes. One of the book in hardcover, and one of the audiobook. We grabbed the audiobook, and some drinks, and checked out. We had barely made it to the car before we popped in the CD and we were excitedly on our way. Listening to the story as I read along in the book.

For years the debate has raged on; ebooks or print? For many years, I would have said ebooks, I loved the convenience of them, and I hated the idea that somehow ebooks didn’t count as real books. Perhaps it’s some deep seeded desire to fight for the underdog but this idea that somehow the text in an ebook was less important than physical books became an exhausting fight. Recently however thanks in part to changing prices in hardcover books and the Book of the Month Club, I’ve found a new obsession in hardcover. I also realized something about the debate of digital versus physical books that I hadn’t considered before. With all of the handwringing over ebooks killing the paperbound book, why wasn’t there concern over audiobooks?

For as long as I can remember audiobooks have never been seen as a threat to the physical book. Audiobooks had existed for years before the ebook, and yet, when the debate came up about the danger to the end of the physical novel, the audiobook was never mentioned. I think in some ways it’s because audiobooks almost go hand in hand with physical books, and so it’s less a war of how something is devoured and more an addition to how it’s enjoyed and appreciated. It’s an extension of the book, not competition. But the question has always confused me, why is how you enjoy a book more important than that you are enjoying a book at all? If we’re really so concerned about how few people read, it might be advised not to tell them how to read, and simply to be glad that they are reading, period.

The Sounds of Creativity

I don’t know when exactly it started. The moment music no longer helped my creative endeavors and only served to slow me down, I think it was a gradual change that happened so slowly and without warning that by the time it took over it was already too late. Or maybe it was a sneak attack that I never even thought to try and look out for. One way or another, and seemingly inevitably I reached a point where the creative writing playlists I’d created on Spotify (and later Apple Music) were used less and less frequently, as the only sounds of creativity I could stand any longer were that of a light fan, some rain, and the tapping of my acrylic nails on my computer keys.

It’s been said that the background noises of a coffee shop can be very beneficial to creativity, and getting work done, and there’s a few websites that have been created for just the purpose of making you feel like you’re in a cafe. But somewhere that low hum of chatter, coffee creation, and light music never quite did it for me. I have never been able to successfully write anything in a coffeeshop, particularly any place really public, though I’ve tried on multiple occasions over the course of my life. I feel like the older I get the more I wrap myself up in this shell and just want to avoid the outside world while I’m creating. I can barely get any work done if my boyfriend/friends are under the same roof or in the same room. We talk, we watch tv, we do pretty much everything but work. If it weren’t for the fact that a podcast requires us to have a conversation I’m not sure I would ever be able to get that completed with anyone else around.

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.