“Don’t read writing advice.”
I’ve been seeing this bit of wisdom floating around the web of late. It’s ironic in that it, too, is advice. Thus, it gave me pause. Should I not read writing advice? Should I not take writing classes? Should I stop listening to my writer friends when they offer pieces of their experience?
Part of me says, “Yep. That’s sound. Writing advice can be trouble,” and I believe that for a couple of reasons. First, many writers or would-be writers fall into the trap of thinking they still need to learn more before they can actually write; thus, they read pages and pages and pages of writing books and never write a word. The bottom line is that the only way to be a writer is to write, not read about writing.
Secondly, writing advice can be stifling, especially when it’s pedantic. Too many “rules” on specific things can make writing formulaic. A protagonist must have a flaw. A memoir must have a consistent point of view. Sure, these things are helpful – no one wants a flat, perfect main character – but they can also shut us down by making us too deliberate and controlled in our writing. Some of the best writing is spontaneous and bold about breaking rules.
So for those reasons, I do believe writing advice can be detrimental. HOWEVER, I find so much more good comes from writing advice than bad. Without good insights from more seasoned writers, we can be left isolated and floundering as writers. Thus, I think writing advice can be a powerful tool.
Good writing wisdom helps me see my own strengths and weaknesses. If am actually writing, the words of other writers help me analyze my own work, something that is hard to do given my closeness to it. They help me see how my own structure might be flawed or how the use of setting might deepen my story. Like personal critique writ large, the advice of other writers helps me study my own work.
Additionally, these pieces of insight help me feel connected to other writers. Like help me see that people before and with me are struggling in the same way. They tie me to other people, people I may never know. When I read Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird, I find myself breathing easier because she has experienced these struggles and this self-deprecation and come through soundly – or at least mostly soundly – and with a beautiful sarcastic grace. I find some of my community through reading the advice of other writers.
Finally, the words other writers pen about writing keep me at it. I would have quit this vocation long ago if I hadn’t read the words of people like Laraine Herring and Gayle Brandeis, if I hadn’t heard the wisdom of writers like David Ulin and Brian Bouldrey, if I hadn’t watched Shawn Smucker and Jennifer Luitweiler write through their own processes. Writing is not something anyone – but my Creator and me – asks me to do, so it’s easy to quit. But the wisdom of other writers tells me to push through, keep going, one word at a time.
So in the end, I”m highly in favor of reading writing advice. It gives me help and hope in this profession that I always love but also sometimes love.
What about you? Do you like to read writing advice? Why or why not?