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.

The Fine Line

There is a dangerously fine line between confidence and cockiness, but what is the line, and how do we avoid crossing it?
The thing to know is that confidence vs. cockiness is all about  perspective. A lot of people who are currently successful at the top of their fields, have admitted that even before they were successful they had an idea that they could be successful and/or would be successful. Had they articulated these ideas at the time, it would be easy to view that sort of thing as cockiness. Without the goods to back it up, some might have looked at even people we see as talented without question now, as just full of themselves. We’d tell ourselves, they’ll learn, they’ll get a swift dose of reality.
There’s a certain desire that exists in some, particularly in the art world– to tear down the confidence of others. While there are plenty of inspirational quotes about not looking to others to quantify your self worth, there are a lot of contradicting realities that are taught to us from a very young age. To know your self worth and to know you are talented is to be cocky and therefore, is considered a negative thing you don’t want to be.
To be vocal about this knowledge, and to be willing to share it can get you vilified, and you begin to learn rather quickly that being confident is not actually what people want you to be. Secretly they want you to need them for validation. If you aren’t validated by others, how can you possibly know you are talented, or beautiful, or intelligent?
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad to want validation from others either. But there’s a very real cycle of shame when it comes to validation, where, you aren’t supposed to know you’re talented and admit it, but then if you ask for validation rather than waiting for it to simply come to you, then you look desperate and needy. Another negative that we’re made to feel is wrong, putting us in a lose/lose situation in which either way we’re wrong.

In my conversation with Adrianne, the thing I really took out of all of this was that frankly it shouldn’t matter, there is nothing inherently wrong with being ‘cocky’. You really should be able to know your self worth and admit 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.

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.

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.

The Evolving Narcissa Deville

At the start of my blog almost a decade ago now, I wrote about anything and everything. Though political themes seemed to run through every post, writing seemed to be one of the major themes that stuck, and helped to grow my brand. But as I’ve grown as a blogger I’ve wanted to branch out to other types of topics, there’s more to me than just writing, and so I’ve worked to evolve my brand to include pop culture, LGBT issues (particularly trans issues) political, beauty, technology and of course writing.

All with questionable results.

I’ve noticed a theme for a while now. Posts specifically about writing will get likes, maybe even a comment or two. (Less so now than in the past) but posts about anything not writing related, seem to go unseen. I get the impression, and perhaps this is incorrect, that those who follow me want to see me stick to writing only, rather than branching out as a creative person. I’ve never been one to stick to just one idea of anything and I certainly won’t start now. I’m trying to balance the wants of those who would actually read/watch what I do, and what I actually want to do. Ultimately no I’m not blogging for likes, but knowing people read something you wrote is something every writer wants isn’t it?

Stumbling Blocks

 

If you don’t follow me on Twitter you probably (blessedly) missed a little breakdown I had earlier in the week. I was frustrated for having not been able to write anything, and I decided that the most logical of all possible decisions was to tweet about my frustration. I had considered blogging about it, or even vlogging, but as I note, you can’t complain about something that’s your decision to do right?

No one’s forcing me to vlog, or blog, or even do a podcast, I’m sure several would even prefer I didn’t on all accounts, but I enjoy doing them. Love it even, so it’s something that I want to continue doing. Still, my novel took a bit of a hit for the team, and it’s become something of a frustration for me all the same.

I created a schedule for myself of when I should work on certain projects which got off to a rocky start when some sort of allergy/almost cold took over last week and made it impossible to get much done.

It’s not like I’m not writing anything. Obviously. But the novel, the one thing I thought more than anything I would never have to worry about falling by the wayside has. I’ve managed since that Twitter rant, and actually almost immediately after to do some small amount of writing and frankly I’m happy for any bit I can get done.*

I’m hoping my upcoming vacation will prove helpful to me in the creation department and maybe having the better part of a full week off will really help me get ahead of myself a bit more; in the meantime I just need to get into my creative schedule and hope that this could possibly help.

Anyone have any other suggestions? I love hearing from fellow writers and any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

*It’s worth noting and truthfully, I forget about it after the fact but I do have phases like this sporadically at least once a year, where I struggle to write and struggle to write, and then write like for six months straight… is that related? Maybe??

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.