I have a tendency to research on to the Internet. From investigating how to write to dissecting other authors’ works, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the vast, conflicting amount of writing advice that exists. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had moments where you glared at your computer screen, because you’d read so much clashing advice that you developed writer’s block.
From Elmore Leonard’s belief that adverbs are a “mortal sin,” Mark Twain’s statement: “When you catch an adjective, kill it,” to Anne Rice’s idea that there aren’t “any universal rules,” it’s easy to get lost in the massive pile that is writing advice.
I could choose to not go onto writing blogs. I could ignore the Internet, but I keep searching for that piece of advice that will be that perfect kernel of wisdom. After all, bestselling authors should know how to delve out writing advice. They are successful authors.
However, like so much else in life, writing advice is subjective. Take Kurt Vonnegut. He states that the first rule for creative writing is “Do not use semicolons.” Numerous authors use semicolons. It’s challenging to find a novel that doesn’t at least use one semicolon.
If you use a semicolon, does that mean you’re not a good writer?
Claire Messud, Virginia Woolf, and William James would disagree.
Another one of Elmore Leonard’s beliefs is that writers shouldn’t “go into great detail describing places and things.” Many of my professors demanded more detail in my work and that of my cohorts. They wanted to have a pristine image of what was going on.
While the rest of this particular Leonard quote explains why writers should avoid too much detail—it may bring the action to a standstill—nit-picky advice can cause substantial harm.
Too often writers get bogged down with the rules of writing. We’re supposed to study and learn from the greats, but at some point we have to distinguish ourselves. Find our voice. Writing is mysterious. It’s a process unique to each writer. What works for one person, may not work for another.
Advice that shuts a writer down isn’t beneficial. You want advice that inspires you. That motivates you to write. More than that, you want to have something that resonates with you.
If you pay too close attention to what others say is good writing, you may lose your distinct voice. The most successful writing, is writing that doesn’t sound identical to anything else. And while some writing advice is reassuring, it’s important to realize that you can step off the well-worn path of writing and chart a new course.
What’s some of the worst writing advice you’re received?
(Photo courtesy of Byron Barrett.)