Friday, March 11, 2016

Best and Worst Advice

A popular post from July 2010

By Julie Wright

We used to play a game at my house called Best Part of the Day (I know. We're brilliant with titles, aren't we?). It was where everyone went around the table and shared the best part of their day. Sometimes, the kids would share the worst part of their days too. It was a way we learned a little about each other. We also learned a lot about the world around us because it usually inspired conversations that required explanation.

At a recent conference I spoke at, I was also on a panel with several other authors and one of the attendees asked, "What is the best advice you've ever received as an author?"

It was surprising what the responses were from each of the authors on the panel. Much like my children, the best meant something entirely different for each unique person.

For me, the best writing advice ever given in my life came from a small meeting after class with my seventh grade English teacher. The advice actually came from myself, but Mrs. Brown had fished around for it until it came out. I was entering a contest and showing her my entry. She asked me,

"What will you do if you don't win?"

It had never occurred to me that I wouldn't win. OF COURSE I would win because I was brilliant. But I stood there shifting from foot to foot and searching myself for the answer to that question. Finally I said, "I guess I'll keep writing."

She exhaled in relief and said, "Good girl. I was hoping you'd say that."

To keep writing no matter what was my best advice. To keep writing even when I took second place. To keep writing when I didn't place at all. To keep writing when I had nothing worthy to write about. To just keep writing.

The other authors had things like: Don't wait until you find time, because you never will. Don't get arrogant when you finally get published, because someone else will always be there, outselling you and outwriting you. Stop talking about it; just sit your butt in the chair and just get it done.

The question naturally led to another question, "What is the worst advice you've ever been given?"

The answers were again all different. For me, the worst advice came from a speaker at a conference. The speaker had started out arrogant and obnoxious and I partly wonder if everything he said grated on me because his attitude was so prickly, but he said something that felt untrue for me--though it might have been someone else's best advice . . . who knows.

He said, "Forget the audience. You're writing for yourself, and yourself alone. The audience means nothing to you"

Um, okay, unless you're trying to SELL to an audience. For me, his advice didn't work. I wrote to an audience--myself being part of that audience. All the humor, all the sentimental stuff, the age range . . . I target it to the audience I'm writing for. For me that works. It might not for someone else. Like I said, my worst advice might be someone else's best.

Other authors' bad advice consisted of: The NEVER and ALWAYS rules. They said to avoid people with absolutes in their advice.

Another was that beginning writers should start out writing poetry and short stories before they dare attempt a novel length work. Any advice that makes you feel bad about yourself or less worthy is bad advice.

Whenever we do anything in our lives, there are voices out in the crowd throwing in their opinions on how we should manage ourselves. Some are well meaning; others are resentful. Some are excited for our futures; others could not care less but like to have something to say anyway.

The point is to be careful who we listen to. Take the advice that works for you and let the rest go.

What's the best and worst advice you guys have received?


Annette Lyon said...

The worst advice I ever got shoved me into a corner for a long time: "Write what you know."

The best advice was to be excited and eager about research--that's it NOT scary but can be fun. That opened up a world of new possibilities--and historical four novels that wouldn't have otherwise been written.

Annette Lyon said...

FOUR historical novels.

Yes, I'm a writer. Can you tell? :P

Curtis Moser said...

It's hard for me to narrow down the BEST or the WORST advice I've ever been given. It seems so absolute. But one of the best tidbits of advice for me was to Keep It Simple Stupid. Write simple sentences, simple paragraphs, simple chapters and the writing will pop. That isn't to say that it needs to be Dick and Jane. Just that it doesn't need to read like a medical journal to be enjoyable. Another way to say it is: Take the ego out of your writing. That advice has been very helpful for me.

Some of the worst advice I've ever been given? Anything that starts with, "You know what you should do in [enter my manuscript name here]?" I don't mean to sound arrogant. I know you have good intentions, dear advice-giver. But I'm just looking for constructive criticism, not your own personal soapbox to preach from. If you have something you'd like to see in my novel, sit down and write your own. :)

I know that many of you are looking at those two paragraphs and are thinking that they contradict one another, but they really don't. I'm not saying that I don't have an ego. It's large and incapable of overinflation (feel free to try). I'm just saying that I try to remove it from my writing as much as possible. I also don't want you to get the impression that I'm too egotistical to appreciate good criticism. If I need more conflict in my novel, great. If my dialogue sucks, terrific. If my plot has more holes than swiss cheese, thank you very much. But if you think my novel should be about man's quest for immortality when it's clearly about woman's quest to impede man's quest for immortality, keep it to yourself please. :)

Rebecca Talley said...

As always, great post. I think we need to take all advice with a grain of salt and use what works for us and throw the rest out. Lots of people are eager to give out advice and it's not always the best advice.

Heather B. Moore said...

Advice is usually based on someone's personal experience and may or may not relate to our own writing journey.

The best advice I've heard is: "Allow yourself to write a crappy first draft."

The worst advice, "Don't worry about the market, write what is true to yourself." Well, it's not horrible, but then again I had written 3 manuscripts, all rejected. When I did a market study and researched niches I could fit into and help fill, that's when I got published. No matter what story I write, it will be my story and my creativity, so that, to me, is being true to myself.

Also, I no longer treat writing as a hobby or something to do in my spare time. I make it a priority and treat it as a job/business. I schedule time each day to write and set weekly word count goals--even if it takes getting up at 5 am to meet it.

Anonymous said...

The best advice I was ever given was "The advice we give others is really the advice we need to hear ourselves". Now anytime I feel the need to share my "wisdom" I write in my journal the message I felt like sharing and when I am done, I write "Dear Me..." at the top. It's amazing the insight you can find that was hidden there in your subconsience all along.

Julie Wright said...

Curtis, they don't contradict at all.
Anon, your best advice is now MY best advice ever received. I love that thought. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You are a gem.

Thank you for these posts.

Anonymous said...

I am the second anon writing again.
Sort of off-track, (pun intended -sorry couldn't help it) but...
I just looked at your blog and why are you in the middle of the tracks? Is there a reason or symbolism? And what kind of store?

Julie Wright said...

Why am I in the middle of the tracks . . . good question. My husband was playing photographer for me because I had a new book coming out and wanted a new picture. We stopped by a lake and took some shots, and the tracks were just there. A blogger friend of mine has an engagement photo of her and her husband on the tracks and it was a cute picture (she is a super cute human so it makes sense she takes good pictures). So I decided to try the pose and while my husband was setting up the shot, he said, "You're on the tracks because you're heading somewhere."

I responded, "Yeah, either that or I'm about to get run over by a train . . ."

Both of us are right depending on the day. :)

And I own a general/convenience/grocery store in the middle of a small town in the middle of nothing at all. We sell pretty much everything. Think of the general mercantile in Walnut Grove; we're like that. :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story.
Apples and a story too. Love it.