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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dangers of Looking For/Taking Advice On Writing, Part I

If I had my writing journey to do all over again, I would write a bunch of manuscripts first and THEN study the craft, once my own personal writing instincts were deeply entrenched.

That is a comment I made on another writer's blog recently.

I can't speak for other writers, but I think anyone who strives to take what's inside them and craft it into a fictional narrative of novel length is taking a big risk. We have to take the business end of publishing impersonally, but writing is very personal. As a result, we want it to be the best it can be and are insecure in how to achieve our best writing.

So what do we do? We troll for knowledge; for help on crafting the best story we can; we try to synethesize the craft of writing into some basic formula we can apply to that mass of words churning in our gut.

And it is about this time, if we are not careful, that our own instinct begins to wilt in the face of that overpowering synthesis.

Writing is art. Writing is subjective. Even if we took two best-selling novels and distilled common successful elements of both and proclaimed them to be standards of good writing, you are just as likely to find two more novels that have a completely different set of successful "standards."

But writers are voracious in their quest for "good writing" parameters and there are many who are eager to please and honestly striving to help writers improve. In fact, on the whole, I have found all people in the publishing industry, whether agents, editors, or authors, to be very gracious and giving of their time and knowledge to help writers. In fact, the only time I hear anyone in the industry being less than gracious is the occasional comment from a writer about how every Tom, Dick and Harry is out to write a book and is cluttering up the slush pile--as if people aspiring to write books is a bad thing!

But overall, people are very willing to help writers and this is very admirable.

Until the help leads to what are touted to be "The Ironclad Rules of Writing." Innately those who dispense writing advice know there are multiple ways to write a great story, but for sake of a standard framework, the same rules are quoted repeatedly and, since there are a million blogs and books on the writing craft, these rules are repeated and amplified and kept thrumming in your head until the average insecure writer can no longer hear their own instinct calling out to them about their story. It reminds me of the old stamp mills used in mining where the huge iron cylinder would thunder down on top of unsuspecting rock and crush it.

I'll say again, industry people who offer advice are not out to crush writers with rules. They are trying to provide what we want--a magical formula or set of standards. But our writer's brains don't usually properly screen this freighter full of rules and it leads to trouble.

That's why, though you will occasionally find "how to" posts at Arizona Inspiration, my focus is on the writer's journey, not the rules.

Tomorrow I'll give you an example of why listening to the Ironclad Rules of Writing can be dangerous.

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