Saturday, July 7, 2018

Adopt, Adapt, or Abandon: What to Do With Writing Advice

When I turned thirty, I decided I was old enough not to have to justify myself to people who liked to lay down the rules on how things had to be done, when their rules didn't work for me.

Like the teacher of a sewing class I took, who dictated that proper tailors/seamstresses/sewers used only one particular size needle, and all others should be thrown away.

I kept those other needles.  The one she favored worked for me in some circumstances, but not in others.  I realized that, unless she was actually planning to come to my house and rifle through my sewing kit, it wasn't necessary to argue the matter with her.  With that instructor and any other, I could adopt the practices that worked, adapt the ones that needed adjustment, and quietly abandon whatever didn't fit.

I'm thinking of this because yesterday morning I listened to a podcast where a guest was being interviewed about scheduling your writing.  He said he wrote his X-number of words faithfully in the designated time, then shut off his mind and didn't think about writing at all outside of that.  And tonight I was reading another, quite prolific, writer's blog posts on how one should approach writing in general. This writer has strong opinions about writing and rewriting, especially on the value of generating a clean first draft, letting go, and writing the next piece.

These stood out, because usually I can see myself using the advice I get from writing gurus.  Maybe not now, but someday.  But I've thought about it, and in these cases, it isn't so.

And that's fine.  Someone else's proven practice may very possibly run counter to who I am and how my mind works. If that's the case, I can smile gently and let their advice go.  E.g., a lot of my "writing" doesn't take place at my keyboard, it happens when my body's busy but my mind is free at my night job.  And as for extruding a workable draft the first time, I don't even know who my characters are the first time around!

I'm not saying these more experienced writers have nothing to say to me.  Certainly, writing story after story after story can get you to the point where you can whip off good prose without hours and days and weeks of polishing.  Heck, if I would stop making perfectionistic edits to my WIP I could publish the blinking thing and get onto the next.

In other words, I might be able to adapt that advice to how I work, or maybe, I can adapt my work practices to better serve my writing.

But instantly embracing every last piece of writing advice isn't going to serve me.  A lot of it is aimed towards keeping the novice out of trouble, but you'd think it was written by the finger of God on Mount Sinai.  "Don't write prologues."  Do you realize most of the books I've checked out from the library in the past couple of years have them?  "Don't write in omniscient POV, it only leads to Narrative Intrusion."  Ditto--- published authors love them an omniscient narrator.  "Show, don't tell."  Well, maybe, sometimes.  But not everything is worth showing, and maybe "telling" can reveal a lot about your characters and the kind of people they are.  "Get up an hour earlier in the morning and do your writing while you're fresh."  Charming, but some of us have schedules or physical limitations that prevent that.

The point is, all the advice we get is good in its way.  The question is, is it good for you and the work you're doing?  To answer that, you have to know yourself.  Those physical issues that keep you from getting up and writing at the crack of dawn they may be real impediments, or you may just be lazy.  It's up to you to be honest with yourself and decide.

Adopt what fits, adapt what needs adjusting, and abandon the rest.  Or maybe just set it aside for later.  It may come in handy, and if you've kept yourself from justifying why it simply won't work, it'll be easier to adopt or adapt it when its time has come.

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