On Taking Writing Advice

by Chris McGinty of AccordingToWhim.com

When it comes to subjects that interest
me, I spend a lot of time studying. For instance, I could easily spend most of
my day off just reading music history and trivia. I could also spend most of my
day off studying writing, and I recently did. On Christmas Eve, I was at work
and clicked on a video about mistakes new writers make. I’m not a new writer in
the regard that I’ve been writing for over 40 years now. I’m still somehow
37 years old. I doubt I will ever spend most of my day off studying math. I’m a
new writer in the regard that I’ve gotten very little feedback from others over
the years. Maybe I was making some of these mistakes.

During my time off, I ended up
watching a few videos on the subject and read comments to see what other
writers and readers thought of the videos. The good news is that I don’t
generally make too many of the mistakes that the videos talked about. I’m
particularly interested in the mistake of the author inserting themselves into
the story. I do that all the time. I might write some posts later examining
some of the mistakes, but today I want to focus on writing advice in general.
I think the biggest mistake of
new writers is two-fold and seemingly contradictory. New writers don’t listen
to enough advice and listen to too much advice. The funny thing is that I think
it results in the same problems, because humans are sometimes bad at choosing
what advice to follow.
Following advice that tells you
how to break into the industry while not following advice that will improve
your writing is a mistake. An example would be getting beta-readers, because a
publisher suggested you do so before sending in your manuscript; but then
getting onto social media and complaining that your beta-readers were idiots
who didn’t understand your story. It’s possible that it’s your fault that they
didn’t understand your story, but you’re not entertaining the notion.
There are overnight successes. I
wouldn’t begrudge anyone who accomplished that. I wouldn’t put your hopes and
dreams on hold looking for a perfect moment to succeed. On the other hand, you
should realize that most people have to write for years, and learn from their
mistakes before they succeed. There’s a lot of advice out there. Some of it is
just the opinion of the person giving the advice. Some of it is useful.
I think the best advice for new
writers is simply this. Write a lot. Listen to complaints about your writing
openly and not defensively. Learn from those complaints, even if they seem
wrong to you. If one person has the complaint, it’s possible others will. If it’s
not something that your story lives or dies by, then maybe a rewrite would be a
good thing. You can be divisive on the major aspects. Experiment with the rules
of writing. Learn how to work within the rules, so that later when you wish to
break the rules, you have a better understanding of why. This might include
writing a few trite stories full of clichés, so that later you can find
original ideas. Study writing. Don’t use studying writing as a crutch to not
write though. When you read an article about how to draw your readers into your
story, you’ll get more out of it if you have some stories completed that you
can examine. Finally, remember that there is no magic formula for getting your
work published. It simply improves your chances if you’re already a good
writer. Focus on becoming good.
Chris McGinty is a blogger who
often wonders if he’s actually a good enough writer to give advice on writing,
but since he’ll probably always wonder that he can either give advice or not
give advice. Guess which one he decided on.

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