The most important piece of writing advice that I know

There are thousands of books on writing out there, perhaps millions of articles and blog posts, and countless forums and writing groups where you can discuss the art and craft of writing with your fellow writers. There are workshops and conferences, apprenticeships and mentorships for writers who want to improve or those who want to help others improve, and creative writing classes in schools all over the world.

Sometimes, it’s all too much. It seems like every writer has a completely different approach to writing from the next. “Outline.” “Don’t outline.” “Follow your characters.” “Make them do what is necessary to advance the plot.” “Do a ton of research, even if you don’t use half of it.” “Do only the bare minimum of research necessary to make your story believable.” “Anyone who writes quickly is a hack.” “Anyone who takes their time never gets anything done.” “Share you book with 50 other people before you send it to the editor.” “Share it with maybe one other person and then send it to your editor.”

How is a writer — especially a new writer who doesn’t know much about the craft or business of writing — supposed to know what works and what doesn’t? Every writer who has ever felt the need to grace the unwashed masses with their opinions (like me, for example) sounds so certain that it can be hard to disagree, especially when they demonize or vilify anyone who disagrees.

In my experience, I’ve found that the most important piece of writing advice I have ever come across is this: “Do whatever works for you.”

Each writer is different. What works for me might not work for you, and vica versa. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no such thing as good or bad writing. It just means you need to realize that the path to writing something good is different for every writer. Certain paths are more widely traveled and perhaps more reliable than others, but ultimately there is no such thing as the definitive path that every writer MUST follow if they want to write anything worth reading.

Does outlining work for you?

Then do it.

Does organic writing work for you?

Then do that.

Does some sort of combination of outlining and organic writing work for you?

Then do it, even if no one else is doing it.

All writing advice you receive — whether it comes from a friend, a book, a member of your writing group, a magazine article or blog post, or from something else — must be judged by that criteria. If it does not work for you — even if it works for everyone else you know — then you don’t need to do it, no matter what anyone else says.

What is the most important piece of writing advice that you know?

-Tim

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2 thoughts on “The most important piece of writing advice that I know

  1. so incredibly true. after hearing tons of writing advice and reading blogs and books on the subject, I’ve found that the best thing I can do is to write a ton and figure out what works for me…

    Like

  2. Sit down to write with the sign over your desk, “I’m going to tell you something awesome.”

    This was the only good thing to come out of reading the WORST BOOK EVER*–The Paths of the Dead by Steven Brust. I think it was done for comedic effect, but the writing style was so painfully and intentionally verbose it was just difficult to get through. But the postscript about “how to write like the author” included the above advice to write what you love, and, maddeningly, the advice has stuck with me. The author has the gall to put something like “if you find this advice useful you will have to concede that buying and reading this book was a valid use of your money and time.” ARGH. But it was true.

    *Okay maybe not the worst book ever; I have to admit I was similarly frustrated by “The Wandering Unicorn” and that didn’t even have the excuse of being comedic.

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