Thursday, March 26, 2015

Carl Sandburg on Advice

by Jill Williamson

There's a lot of writing advice out there. It can be confusing, and sometimes contradicting. How can you know what is good advice and what is bad?

When I first started writing, I drank advice like water. Any feedback I received, I obeyed. I was so eager to improve, I often edited my voice right out of my stories. Even today, it's sometimes a challenge not to fall back on that bad habit.



Sometimes you hear advice and you just know it's good. It's obvious. It gives you the "Well, duh!" moment. Other times, advice can leave you confused and conflicted. If you can relate to this, keep these things in mind.

1. Wait.
When you get advice on your writing, do nothing. Take a few days or weeks to think it over. Time will give you a better perspective.

2. Ask someone else.
You can't take a poll every time you receive advice you don't like, but asking your critique partners what they think can often give you a better perspective. If one person points out something you disagree with, so what? But if the vast majority of people point out that same thing, you'd be wise to listen.

3. Decide for yourself.
Sure, we all start out confused. And we struggle, learning to show and tell, and all the other writing "rules." But at some point, we've learned the rules. And once we've learned them, we're allowed to break them if we want. We get to the point where we have to trust our gut. That doesn't mean we won't make mistakes. That doesn't mean we no longer need critique partners or editors. And that definitely doesn't mean we should stop learning. I will always make errors and I must continue to learn more and better my craft. But I also trust that I can tell a story. I might not do it like the majority of writers. But I am Jill. And Jill must tell stories her way. So must you. So start trusting yourself!

Do you struggle with knowing which writing advice is correct? How do you deal with this?

(I'm still in Arizona. I likely won't be able to answer comments until the weekend, but please comment anyway!)

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for the awesome post! :) Sometimes it's really difficult to tell whether something is ment to go into your novel. For example, large changes in plot, starting eariler/later than you originally started, usless scenes (painful to hear people say to cut it out.) and really anything that is change. (the bad baddies are less painful to cut out ex: overused words, strange sentances) But sometimes you get the vibe that the story is too weeded to actually get anywhere in it. Advice is difficult to tell because not all of it is right for the story you are working on. The problem is telling how or why... zzzzzz you probably just fell asleep:) Anyways, thanks for the post! :)

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    1. That's so true, Emma. It's especially hard when you're not sure whether the advice you're getting is right for the story. You've just got to do your best to weed through it.

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  2. Thank you for this advice, Mrs. Williamson. It is definitely one I will take. :) I can completely relate to this. I tend to want to imbibe evey bit of advice I hear... I have constantly to remind myself that this advice may not be "right" for me. However, there are some, like you say, that are very easily spottable as "good advice." I for one have had a good share of "Well, duh!" moments since I first visited this wonderful website! I hope you are enjoying your trip in Arizona, Mrs. Williamson.

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    1. I did enjoy my trip! Thank you. And I, too, have had my share of "Well, duh!" moments. I'm much rather have one of those than struggle over an editor's advice. That can be really difficult.

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  3. "Gildor was silent for a moment. ... 'But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.'

    "'And it is also said,' answered Frodo, 'Go not to the Elves for advice, for they will say both no and yes.'"

    Sorry. I couldn't help myself. :-P

    But I can totally relate to the bit about bad advice. At least, it wasn't intended as advice, but I took it as such, and was more than a little painful.

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    1. Don't apologize. I LOVE The Lord of the Rings!

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    2. Love those quotes, Natasha! Thanks for sharing those. And, yes. Advice can be painful, but when it helps you grow as an author and it improves your story, the pain is worth it.

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  4. I can tell this post is great advice. Pretty much everything around here is. :D
    I struggle with trying to follow the "rules", especially when it comes to prose style. There seems to be a lot of stuff on the internet about the importance of trimming your writing. And while I could totally stand to lose words, and many of the tips are valid, sometimes collectively they push me into thinking that my natural style - which you've probably noticed from my rambling comments isn't exactly concise - is all wrong and needs to be overhauled to be any good. But in January Stephanie had an awesome post about the prose being a window to the story, and though it was actually about not letting...excessively exotic...techniques overshadow the story, it helped me to remember that good writing is about so much more than who has the tightest descriptions.

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    1. Absolutely, Miri. And this ties back to the "once you know the rules, you have permission to break them on purpose" thing. Learn the rules. Then write the book you need to write, the way you want to write it. That doesn't mean you might not get an editor someday who finds flaws in it still, but you need to use your own voice when you write and still be aware of what works and what doesn't.

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  5. Thanks for this post! I would add that even if you don't get advice, waiting is vital when you are editing and revising. It helped me so many times when I was going through the various drafts that led to finishing my book on the spirituality of The Lord of the Rings. (Nice to see another fan in Natasha here!) :) Waiting gave me fresh eyes to see what could be phrased better and all that good stuff.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)

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    1. Indeed. Patience is a virtue. And most people don't practice it enough.

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