I try not to offer “writing advice” on this blog – although at times the temptation to do so may be strong. The reasons I might attempt to abstain from offering “writing advice” should be obvious: I cannot lay claim to any authority on the subject. I’m not published in any meaningful sense of the word (I have a single publication credit – a nonfiction piece). I can’t claim to be any good at writing, much less able to tell others how they can improve their own. Likewise, I have almost no direct experience in the publishing industry, so there is little I can say on that matter that would stand against that “subject matter authority” test.
Sometimes, admittedly, I may say something on this blog – with regards to writing or to publishing – that might sound an awful lot like writing advice. It’s not. Whenever I think I’m treading that line, I usually try to include a disclaimer. This is how I am currently thinking about this topic. This is what I would do in this situation. This is what I am doing or what I currently plan to do in the future. That’s the only subject over which I have any real authority: this is who I am and this is what I do. The fact of the matter is, I’m flying as blind as the next guy, or blinder. If you came here looking for writing advice, you came to the wrong place, and there are other places and other blogs likely to serve you better in that regard.
Even so, I am often quite opinionated about matters that touch on these topics. And as such I will tend to blather on about them from time to time.
All of this is a rather circuitous introduction to an interesting post I read recently on the subject of writing advice: “Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers” by Nick Mamatas. It lists ten common pieces of “advice” that professional writers (especially professionals that are young in their writing careers, it would seem) often give to aspiring writers (i.e. that class of people which include me, my singular publishing credit notwithstanding).
There is a very tiny, only slightly above infinitesimal chance that I might someday be in that category of persons who might be called “neo-pro authors”. If, perchance and against all odds, I do find myself in that position and apparently inclined to offer “writing advice”, would you be so kind as to link me back to this, my post of today, as a reminder against the futility of offering such “advice”? I would be ever-so-grateful.
That aside… as a short commentary on Nick’s own bits of advice: I have to say I agree with much of what he says, though not all (again, illustrating the crux of his own argument vis-a-vis the futility of writing advice). Craft advice like “Show don’t tell”? That’s so overbroad as to be meaningless advice when it comes to the specifics of actual storycraft. Career-oriented advice like “Don’t give up?” Heck, I don’t preclude the possibility at some future point that I advise myself to give up, if I find success is so illusory as to be an untenable goal as compared to the stress and anguish spent in its pursuit and not succeeding. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do (though I would never suggest to my hypothetical self that I ever stop writing; but that’s a different matter, I think).
Yet I may quibble with certain bits of his counter-advice, of course, like not advising “Watch What You Say on the Internet”. I think the latter is a rather nice bit of advice, even if it’s easy to generate counter-examples of people who have been very successful despite being complete tools on the Internet. But that’s because I think it would probably make for a more pleasant internet experience if more people followed such advice. Or not advising to “write everyday”. Well… maybe not (I don’t write every day), but the gist of the advice, it seems clear to me, is to make a regular and frequent habit of writing, which it would seem correlates positively (though by no means exclusively) with career success in writing. If the latter is your goal, the former (i.e. regular, habitual, frequent writing) seems about as close as you can get to a necessary prerequisite.
But at the end of the day, it’s all subjective, right? Or, what, intersubjective or something? Wait. What does that even mean? Anyway. You get the gist. Our individual experiences as writers – be we long-time pros, neo-pros, or aspirants – are not universally demonstrative of anything. All any of us can do is our individual best – and to try to push ourselves to redefine our own individual bests – and to set goals and try to achieve goals that are compatible with our own individual values and dreams. And when we talk about those things, they will always be highly inflected by the personal nature of our experiences, goals, and dreams. But that’s just my opinion. It’s not writing advice, or anything.