Perhaps the title should be “don’t listen to all advice” so let me clarify: some advice will help you. Some will not.
I’m one of those writers who rummages through the internet in search of advice, tips, suggestions, theories, frameworks, questions, handbooks… basically anything that can help me become better at writing. I’ve found wonderful advice on the way and developed my skills, and I’m hoping to continue that way.
But there’s one thing to remember about advice. Not every piece of advice will work for you. In fact, some advice can be harmful, even if you don’t realize it at first.
I recently came across a conversation where people talked about writing advice. Several people found the famous “Kill your darlings” quote from Stephen King to be one of the worst. If we love something, why shouldn’t we write about it? Why should we turn all we enjoy upside down just because someone tells us to kill what we love?
Now, I don’t see this advice this way. To me the advice is more about learning when to let go. For example even if you love a sentence in your story, you have to be able to cut if it serves no purpose. But the people in the conversation saw it as a restriction, as something that told them that it wasn’t okay to write about what they loved.
That’s Advice Pitfall #1: People interpret things differently
Let’s say you’ve finally found a great blog about writing advice and it tells you to never use adverbs. Seriously, don’t do it. Ever. So you go back to your manuscript and edit out all adverbs, hit Save and smile at your accomplishment. But perhaps there’s more you could fix? So you venture back to discover another blog post but – uh oh – this one says you’re allowed to use adverbs.
Which leads us straight to Advice Pitfall #2: Contradictions
People think differently and some might see adverbs as the worst thing ever while the next might just shrug at them. So what now? Edit them all back in? Leave them out? Who’s right?
The answer and Advice Pitfall #3: There’s no right and wrong
Whenever you give someone advice, you’re (hopefully) trying to help them by telling them something that has helped you. Something that makes sense to you. But with advice, it isn’t always about right or wrong. Sure, telling someone to proofread their text and groom out all the typos would be excellent advice and applies to everyone, but like in the previous example with adverbs, it’s not that simple. I use adverbs. I try not to use them too much and I see the point in all the warnings about them, but I also see the point in using them. Sometimes they fit the story. Sometimes the advice is about personal preferences but it can be hard to identify it.
On that note, Advice Pitfall #4: Listening to others above yourself
Writing is quite the solitary job but towards the end it becomes much more social. There are beta readers, editors, proofreaders, reviewers and so on. When people read your work, they usually have an opinion. Some give advice. Some point you towards a writing resource. Some outright tell you that aspect X of your story was completely wrong and should never be done again. You might think you have to change everything. You might question your abilities as a writer. But the thing is, the story is yours.
Feedback is important. Feedback helps us grow and improve. But at some point you’ll have to learn to put your foot down and say: This is my story. I hear your opinion, I hear your advice, but this is the right way for me. Don’t think everyone else knows better than you. It’s good to listen to others but it’s important to listen to yourself as well.
So, those were the four advice pitfalls I feel are the most common. What do you think? Is there a writing advice that seems to be generally accepted but you do things differently? Do you find yourself always listening to others and forgetting your own vision of the story?