The Problem With Advice About Writing


I realized a few days ago that books about writing make my head hurt.

Don’t get me wrong – advice is good.  Advice means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.  Advice helps.  Yay, advice!


There’s a very lucrative industry out there of books on how to write and get what you’ve written published.  Many of these books are written by very successful authors.  Many of those authors really and truly want to help, want to pass along their knowledge and the lessons they’ve learned to newbies like me.


I have a lot of these books.  I want to learn more about my craft and sharpen my skills.  I want to find better ways to do things.  And I read them because writing is my thing and reading them makes me feel connected to my community.  Like I’m actually a writer.

From time to time I get in a groove where I read a lot of these books all at once.

And then my head hurts.

The books on grammar aren’t too bad.  Grammar is grammar, although even grammar can be a bit subjective, depending on what you write  (“Capitalize, e e cummings!  Capitalize!”)

But once they get past the basics, I run into problems.

First, the advice the books try to give is usually contradictory.

That’s not surprising.  Writing comes from inside the author.  Books on writing, once they get past hard and fast rules of grammar and style, are a writer’s interpretation of the creative process.  And it seems to me that creation is an individual thing.  Do I need to build character or plot or setting?  Yes.  Do I need to build them the same way that Elizabeth George or Stephen King do?  Not necessarily.  Is it useful to know their process?  Yes, but not if it confuses me and takes me away from my own process.  Every author is different.

On the other hand, nobody can give advice like a writer.  Nobody can convince you that the way they do things is the best way to go.  After all, isn’t the whole point of the writing to craft words and sentences leading the reader to a specific end or conclusion?

So I read a book, and I believe it.  Then I read another book, and I believe that one too.  Then I try to reconcile the two books, and usually can’t.  Then I think I’m wrong, because I don’t work the way either of these really famous authors work.  Then I try to change.  Then I realize neither book works for me because neither is really the way I should be working.

And then I take some pain medication.

Because the fact of the matter is, there’s no way to be a writer except, well, writing.

Not reading about writing.



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