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Writing Advice: Writing Advice
Or: I don't know why you say good-bye, I say hello
From Kye Fox on Mastodon: “Writers are often confronted with contradictory writing advice from successful authors. How can we resolve that crisis of conflicting credibility?”
First off, kudos on the alliteration. I respect that. Second, this is a question I anticipate whenever I give advice, and the answer is pretty simple.
No two writers write the same way. One person will swear by the “No Zero Days” rule; someone else will tell you that it burned them out. Someone tells you to outline thoroughly before starting to write; someone else says if they do that they lose interest in writing the story, because there are no surprises left. There are some hard and fast rules around syntax and grammar, but you can also break some of them for effect. Some people are fine with the occasional run-on or sentence fragment; others will send you angry emails if you use an Oxford comma.
The common denominator in all of those people is that none of them is you.
For craft advice (stuff that shows up in the finished work, like dialogue tags, adverbs, dialect, etc.), look at other people’s finished work. Look at how the advice translates to the work. Does a story that overuses adverbs feel clunky to you? Cut down on your adverbs. Do you like it just fine? Great, sprinkle them liberally throughout. You can also allow yourself to be influenced by who the people are giving advice. If your favorite author says “too many adverbs is bad,” then if it doesn’t really make much difference to you either way, cut back on ‘em. The idea of your favorite author picking up your story and saying, “Ugh, too many adverbs” might outweigh whatever benefit you think they bring to the story. But you might really love all your adverbs and feel that your story is too static without them. You want people to yell joyfully and be very determined and arrive suddenly and so on. Then go ahead and use them. The most important thing at the end of the day is whether you’re happy with the story you wrote, and only you can decide that.
And the way you find that out is by trying it all the different ways. Try writing a story with flowery descriptions, try writing one with minimal dialogue tags, try writing one in first person. Do the things people tell you to, and if you don’t understand why, do the opposite and see how it changes your story.
When it comes to writing process advice, this is really the only thing to do. You can’t look at someone else’s process and judge it, because you work a certain unique way that might be similar to how someone else works, but won’t be exactly the same. What K.M. and I used to say about writing advice is: the only good writing advice is whatever results in a story being written. If you’re having trouble, look up a bunch of process advice and try different things. See what feels best for you, what jives with your internal processes the most.
Finding out what works for you can involve a lot of trial and error. Maybe you’ll get lucky and figure it out on the first try, or maybe you’ll have to try a bunch of different things before something clicks. But if you want to write enough to work at it that hard, eventually something will work for you.
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