I have had this blog several years and, in the early days of its evolution, I wrote “writing advice.” Yes, the girl who had yet to be published or showcase her writing on any sort of platform thought she would grace the world with her wisdom on writing.
Since then, however, I’ve mostly shied away from giving “advice” so much as offering my critiques on existing works thus, off-handedly, “giving advice” on how the author could have done better.
My reason for doing this is because most writing advice given without context is….not good. Or, to rephrase, it’s not good for anyone that isn’t that particular author in most instances.
Every author’s brain works differently and so telling large swaths of writers to “never do this” or “always do this” isn’t effective or helpful.
For instance *F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “Cut out all exclamation points. It’s like laughing at your own joke.”
Let me demonstrate why this is a dumb take simply by playing Spot The Difference:
“Stop! Don’t! Come back!”
Another example is Stephen King once said “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Sure. I get it. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. But what is it with modern audiences’ war with adverbs? It seems like it’s just a rotten nugget of supposed wisdom passed on from person to person simply because they were told by someone famous that adverbs are bad and, therefore, it must be true.
Adverbs can enrich a sentence just as much as any other piece of grammar.
Mark Twain once said “Plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English.”
I don’t like long, drawn out sentences either, but there’s nothing wrong with writing elegant, lyrical prose if you’re talented enough to get away with it.
Strangely enough, the more notoriety the writer has, the more terrible their writing advice tends to be. Of course we have the Brandon Sandersons of the world that prove to be the exception to the rule, but, for the most part, famous writers are not good at explaining what makes a good story.
We could argue a lot their supposed success boils down to luck or nepotism. After all, it’s easier to gain attention when you already know who-is-who in the publishing industry and have friends in high places that will boost your creative voice. However, I also believe it is because a lot of writers legitimately have no idea why their writing works. It’s as if their work is its own entity that enjoys a symbiotic relationship with them, rather than a creature of their own making.
Conversely, some people give amazing and detailed writing advice and their actual prose is dog shi—
That may be a blog post for another day .
Regardless, as a writer who is always interested in improving, most videos or “clichés to avoid” lists get a miss from me. You get the occasional pearl of wisdom from these videos and essays, but a lot of it is either conventional wisdom for anyone that isn’t a total noob (don’t make your character perfect, don’t be cliché, etc), or it’s totally circumstantial blanket comments made by writers based on their own personal tastes and hangups (love triangles are terrible, no Dark Lord villains, etc).
If you truly want to improve, the best thing you can do is experiment with your writing style, get a beta reader or two you trust, and never take another writer’s views for gospel no matter how Twitter-famous they are.
I realize I just gave advice, but it’s advice on not necessarily taking advice so maybe it’s not hypocritical?
Anyway…Thank you for reading!
Have a few more exclamation points just to piss off Fitzgerald!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
*I still think The Great Gatsby was boring as hell and I’m not sorry.