The Value of Writing Advice

This originally appeared on my Patreon, but I thought I should share it everywhere.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing writing panels at furry cons. I go to multiple cons a year, and I volunteer sit on at least one panel at the con, and sometimes I do multiple panels for that con’s writing track. Each con handles panels differently. Some writing tracks are curated by a track lead while some cons just take requests and schedule panels based on who requested what. That means I’ve sat on panels by myself and with other writers. I’ve also attended various writing panels over the years. On top of this, I read occasionally read articles on various writing topics, and I’ve read a few books on writing over the years. I’m still looking to push myself, so there will be more books, more articles and more panels to attend as I continue to push myself to be a better writer.

Writing advice, like many things, suffers from survivor’s bias. I by no means think of myself as an expert at this, but I’ve been working at this long enough, I’m well past the novice stage. How far past that is an unknown quantity. One thing I’ve taken to heart that what works for me, may not work for you. If there is a single piece of advice I could impart to any writer, it is this.

Over the years I’ve encountered some advice that is handed down like biblical laws. This advice is so good that you, the writer, should take it as law: You should write what you know. You shouldn’t use adverbs in your writing. You shouldn’t end your sentences with prepositions. You shouldn’t include too much description in your stories. You shouldn’t write in first person present. You should have a single point of view character. You should try and get an agent. You should write in Word. You should write in Scrivener. You should write 1,000 words per day.

The list goes on, and these “laws” of course vary by writer it seems. Each of the ones I’ve listed I could discuss in depth and show examples that support and don’t support them. As a writer, I absolutely have my own personal set of laws I follow and don’t like to violate, but I like to be flexible about this. My processes have changed, and I see no need to limit myself to a strict formula. Also, it’s not only myself I speak of here. Just because I don’t want to do something or work a certain way doesn’t mean others might not want to. Some of the stuff I’ve seen that goes against my own impulses is actually very good. It may not be what I would write or done the way I would do it, but putting aside my biases, I can really dig it. My process works for me. My process, I hope, produces good work. My process may not work for you, and that’s fine. You are not me. You shouldn’t try and be me either. Instead you should be you, whatever that is. Whether you’re an outliner or pantser, go with what for you. Write the stuff that interests you, not the stuff you see out there.

And for those “laws” you’ll encounter people talking about? Well if it works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Some advice you have to sit and think about before you might understand what it’s getting it, but few of the oddball things people hold up as law are truly laws. You can use adverbs. Using them sparingly is often better, but your writing doesn’t automatically cease to be good because you used an adverb. There are some great books in first person present. How much description to include is hard to judge and it might vary by the story you’re seeking to tell. Remember, you’ll find your own voice given time, but don’t be discouraged if you encounter advice that doesn’t work for you.