As a writer, have you ever been given writing advice? How did it influence you – negatively or positively? In today’s post, I really wanted to discuss common writing advice that doesn’t work for everyone. There is a lot of writing advice out there because everyone writes differently, and unfortunately, everyone believes that their way of writing is the best way to write. (Even worse: when you find someone who thinks their way to write is the ONLY way to write. Ugh.)
For writers starting out, advice can seem like a pitcher of lemonade on a 100 degree day. They’re not sure where to begin, so they reach out asking for help. And just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with that! I’m published and often having to ask for help or clarification on multiple different things. It’s okay to ask for help and to receive answers/advice. What’s not okay is when people give you advice and you take it as the end all, be all.
Every writer has different routines, different ways they like to write, different advice to give. However, there is also a lot of common advice out there that has circulated around from beginning writers to writers that have thirty books out. Let’s explore some of these pieces of advice and discuss why they aren’t beneficial to everyone.
First: “Write everyday.” Good Lord, I hate this advice. It is probably the most common, and it gets repeated over and over and over again. If you reach out to multiple different authors for writing advice, there is a HUGE chance that most, if not all of them, will say this to you in some shape or form. Of course they’re just trying to be helpful. More than likely, they were told this advice at some point in the beginning of their career and now they’re just repeating it to you. They mean well.
But here’s why this advice can suck: not all authors can write everyday.
There’s this thing called life that comes in and interrupts writing, and it also comes in many other names – college, high school, spouse, kids, pets, full-time job, part-time job, multiple jobs, homework, friends, family, cleaning the house, cooking, baking, moving, reading, etc, etc, etc. Life happens, and sometimes writing everyday just isn’t feasible. There’s also an issue with inspiration. Some authors would get too burnt out and quit writing their book if they wrote everyday. They need to write when they feel like it, not because it’s something to check off on their daily to-do list.
I am one of those writers that don’t follow this advice and hates it when it’s mentioned to me. I’m a full-time wife, first and foremost, and I love it. I also work two other jobs outside of writing. That’s not including cooking, doing laundry, cleaning the house, etc. For me, writing everyday isn’t always feasible. I guess I should add that I hate this advice because of what occurs after it. It’s such a renowned thing that often times, if you say you don’t write everyday or you don’t encourage other writers to write every day, you’re just…stared at. “How does she get anything done?” “I wonder how long it takes her to write her books.” “This is a great piece of advice! She’s stupid/silly/naive for not following it.” No, actually, I just do things differently.
That being said, the reason why this advice has stuck around is because to, I imagine, over 50% of authors out there, this advice does work for them. Perhaps you’re one of those people. There’s nothing wrong with that! Maybe the way you write your books is by making sure you have a daily goal set. “I’ll write 200, 500, 2,000 words everyday.” And if you can do that, I applaud you. The reason this advice has stuck around and gets repeated day in and day out to aspiring novelists is because for over half of the writing population, it works.
The thing to remember here is that if doesn’t work for you, don’t sweat it. It’s okay to be different. Just because this is a piece of advice that is renowned and widely works doesn’t mean that you’re a failure because it doesn’t work for you. Write the way you write. It’s as simple as that.
Second: “Write for your audience.” Heck no. Should you know your genre/target audience intended for your book? Of course you should. But you should not write your book with your audience in mind. Your job as a writer is to first get your story out the way you want to tell it. Write for you, not for family or friends or anyone else. If you go about writing thinking that you have to create a story perfect for future readers, you aren’t going to finish. You’re going to stress yourself out. “I’m not good enough.” “This book won’t be good enough.” You start to doubt yourself. You become obsessed with a perfectionism that simply isn’t possible for first, or probably even second, drafts. Never, ever write for readers. Write the story you’re feeling for yourself. It’s always your book before it’s anybody else’s.
Third: “Don’t use cliches.” This one is a bit more tricky to go into. Cliches, in this sense, are plots and characters that have been used in stories for so long in the same old boring way that most people don’t care for them anymore. Think: the evil stepmother, the badass chick who’s caught in a love triangle (hello, The Hunger Games), werewolves and vampires as enemies, stereotypes (the girl who wears glasses is a nerd that isn’t all that pretty, the cheerleaders in school are all jerks), etc.
People tell you not to use cliches because they’re overused, and I agree with this to an extent. Sure, while some cliches do make me roll my eyes, there are a lot that I still love. There are a lot of cliches that most readers still love. Just think – the reason they’re cliches now is because they weren’t cliches once upon a time ago. “Luke, I am your Father,” from Star Wars is a great example. People groan about that being a cliche. Guys, Star Wars practically invented that cliche. The reason the whole father-is-actually-the-villain thing is a cliche now is because Star Wars created it and then stories and movies decided to include similar spin-offs.
So, here’s the thing. Feel free to use cliches, but not too many of them. And if you want to include cliches, here’s an idea for you: twist them. The evil stepmother actually isn’t evil; she’s apart of an alien race that doesn’t know how to function as loving, nurturing beings. There are tons of books these days that take cliches and twists them into something “new.” Try it.
What is some writing advice you’ve received that you feel may not be helpful to all authors? Do you resonate with any of the three I’ve mentioned?