Advice, for writing and for everything else, is situational. In some cases it applies, in some it doesn’t.
When a concisely phrased suggestion fits perfectly with what you’ve been trying to work out it can be mind-blowing. Everything suddenly slots into place. You know exactly what you need to do. Not only does it seem to give you the answer to the problem at hand, it can change the way you look at the world in general.
But advice, no matter how apropos, never applies to everything. The camera never lies, love conquers all, honesty is the best policy, they all have their exceptions and so does every other piece of wisdom.
When it comes to writing, most advice comes with an example that seemingly proves the point. A famous novelist, a best-selling book, a well-know quote will solidify the recommendation. This is how you do it, look how well it worked for others.
But you don’t have to write every day. Putting in 10,000 hours won’t automatically make you an expert. Doing what you love doesn’t always make you happy. These things can and do help, but they are never the sole reason for success. And in some cases they can actually make things worse.
Writing every day can easily lead to burn out.
The 10,000 hours rule is just another way of saying practice makes perfect, and not a guarantee of stardom.
Turning your passion into your job can rob you of your love for it.
That’s not to say these things won’t help you become a better writer—at certain stages on the path to becoming a published author a change in focus and approach can help push you onto the next level—but there are no secret methods for turning lead into gold.
You have to dig up your own gold ore and then you can figure out how to refine it for yourself or you can look around to see how others approach the refining process. But that initial lump of rock with bits of gold in it, that has to come from you.
If what you’ve dreamed up is interesting to enough people it doesn’t have to follow any particular template in order to become successful. There are plenty of examples of blockbusting books that are widely mocked and derided for being not very good. Doesn’t stop them from selling.
Equally, a dull or uninspired tale will fail to spark much interest even if you follow all the advice out there and make it grammatically beyond reproach.
So how do you know if you should be applying the concepts that every writing blog (including this one) puts in front of you?
Consider that even those who have mastered the form, who have had great financial success and won awards, still manage to put out huge clunkers. Novelists, filmmakers, artists of all types rarely manage to maintain a string of endless winners. Most have hits and misses.
These are people who have all the mechanics in place and a proven track record. They don’t have any issues with the technical side of creating and they even have an audience eagerly awaiting their work. And yet they can produce a flop that makes no money, and often do.
Because there is always an unknown quantity in this equation. The reader, the viewer, the audience, will always have their own judgement on the subject.
You may think a joke is funny, but if you say it out loud and no one laughs then you have to take that into consideration. Doesn’t mean you can’t find it hilarious, but that isn’t going to be enough if you planned on being a comedian.
No advice is going to magically fill your pockets with gold coins. You have to produce your own raw materials to work with, but what you can do is find ways to make the process smoother and less stressful.
Ultimately it isn’t the end product that advice will help you with, it’s the process of how you get there. And while the audience will decide if what you come up with is any good, you get to decide if your route could have been better.
This means that when you consider advice on writing, instead of looking at the finished book and wondering if people are going to like it (something you can’t really know), you should rather focus on how satisfied you are with the process of writing it.
Was it a struggle to get finished? Did revisions take longer than you had hoped? Did you lose momentum halfway through?
This is where other writers’ experiences and suggestions can come in very useful. What worked for them won’t necessarily work for you, but it’s worth trying because you can very quickly tell if your process improves. And the only judgement that matters is yours.
Bear in mind that doesn’t mean you won’t have to persevere with a new approach to appreciate its full effect—you should at least give it time to feel comfortable to use—but if it isn’t improving your process in the way you want to improve it, then that’s reason enough to not use it.
The actual story—the premise, the characters, the plot—will depend on your imagination and inspiration (and possibly indigestion). You can fiddle with the technical aspects but by and large you will have to depend on your innate storytelling abilities. But making the process as enjoyable and rewarding as possible is something you can definitely learn from others, and worth trying if you’re finding the work heavy going.
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