This Is Why Writing Advice Conflicts Me
I have developed a conflicted relationship with advice. My general experience has been that the person meting it out is often the blowhard in the group, the one with the least amount of wisdom. And conversely, the quietly successful person, the one I really care to hear from, rarely offers advice unless pressed to do so.
It doesn’t help that as the youngest of five, I never was the go-to for anything resembling counsel. After all, how could I know ANYTHING in my lowly position as the family’s ‘caboose’. So, it’s certainly a new experience for me that, as an author, one of the most consistent questions posed to me is what advice can I offer to emerging writers.
I have to be honest. I have ping-ponged with my answer. My knee jerk response is that I don’t give advice, that it can be problematic, especially for someone who is struggling in the early stages of writing. Prevailing wisdom can lead to doubt when you are developing your own style and voice.
This has happened to me. In response to a workshop led by a writing big shot, I began to assume someone else’s narrative voice. It was subtle and most likely vegetated somewhere in my subconscious mind after hearing the wonderful workshop advice. By the time it dawned on me, I’d lost a significant amount of time.
Consider the opposite extreme. Flood yourself with information! Read everything and all that other writers say, try different things, explore and fumble forward to discover your own process. I’ve done this too. It has its merits, but can be exhausting and confusing and lead to that horrible quagmire – writer paralysis.
After allowing these opposing thoughts to marinate in my brain, I came to realize that truly good advice cannot be compartmentalized to one area, but is relevant to life in general.
The ubiquitous and pithy phrase I recently posted on social media ‘Write without fear. Edit without Mercy’ is applicable beyond writing and encompasses much associated with life experience.
To attempt to live without fear is a challenge we all face. But just as with writing – how do we make this possible? The key is learning to develop internal trust. This takes time. And is no doubt frustrating. But it is important to remember that instincts are there for a reason.
One of the characters in my novel, LITTLE LOVELY THINGS, Jay White, is a Native American and is marginalized, as so many minorities are, to the effect of dampening his highly defined instincts. Sadly, he tries to suppress that voice inside because he has been conditioned not to trust himself. It takes a tragic turn of events for him to snap back into place – to honor the deep sense of knowledge that he has cultivated throughout his life.
We all have this internal watchdog to a certain degree. Unfortunately, we often attempt to quash it, because it is not something tangible, except in our hearts.
To edit without mercy is really a call for us to revise our decisions when we fall short. We’re human after all. But so many of us are ashamed of the very notion of making a mistake – that we often fail to learn from them. Whether its cultural conditioning, self-esteem issues, many people get paralyzed once the big ‘uh-oh’ dawns on them. And that leads to rationalizing which is just another form of hiding from ourselves.
When faced with a decision, whether it is a plot twist, or a life decision, do your research for sure. Think it through. But not just with your head. Use all your powers of assessment, including your instinct.
If it doesn’t turn out, which it never always does, take a breath, step back and honor the outcome.
Remind yourself that you weren’t wrong if you tried your best. And then start over. Edit the hell out of your first draft or whatever decision you made and construct something new based on your new knowledge. You might just surprise yourself.
My final word on advice? Live and write without fear. Then edit or revise with self-kindness and added wisdom. Most of all, trust yourself and then move forward – fearlessly.
How about you? Any writing advice (good or bad) you want to share? Please do so below.
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