How Much Should We Listen To Writing Advice?

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts lately on the process of writing. So many of these ‘how to write’ columns offer insights ranging from the oft trotted out write what you know to the depressing and yet oddly comforting your first draft is going to be crap. Unsurprisingly there appears to be a lot of debate on the relative wisdom of these mantras, fueled in no small part by the fact there there is no such thing as a one size fits all model when it comes to the question of putting fingers to keyboard.

Here are some of the more interesting discussions I’ve come across and I’d recommend that you have a read of them:

Why you should edit as you go:

First drafts suck:

My own take on these debates is that we should avoid the inclination towards dogma where our advice to writers (both novice and otherwise) takes the form of what we believe a writer ‘must’ do.

As I mentioned in previous posts here and in comments elsewhere on the net, I’m a big planner. My process is to create an outline first, editing it at that stage until I’m satisfied with my roadmap and only then considering writing up the body of the text. However, I would never suggest that other writers should follow this strategy unless, having tried it out, they find that it works for them too. This is because I often don’t follow my own advice to the letter. For example, although I plan extensively, I will still occasionally jot down snippets of text as they come to me with the aim of finding the proper home for them in the story/novel/play later on in the process.

This is not to say that I don’t find writerly advice useful and I don’t for one minute endorse the view that we should stop sharing and suggesting tips with each other. For example, I believe that telling writers that your first draft is going to suck is particularly useful for those of us who would plan a story to death and find ourselves paralyzed by perfectionism, unable to see any project through to completion.

By the same token however, I feel it would be wrong to assert that this means writers should simply hammer out the first thing that comes into their head and call it a first draft. In the ‘Why you should edit as you go” piece Lincoln Michael makes a very pertinent comment – that there is, in the strictest sense no such thing as a first draft. At the very least, there will be some degree of tweaking, switching and changing before you reach the end of what might be called draft one. I would add to this and say that writing, even of the most pre-planned and structured kind, is an act of organized chaos. This is why there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing and why what works for me might not work for you. What’s trickier, I think, is finding the self awareness to understand what guidelines are likely to yield the best results for you and which ones are likely to hold you back.

I’ve considered this issue further in an earlier post here but I’m curious to hear other’s perspectives on this. Do you feel that writing advice is necessary, contradictory or even counter-productive? Has there been any piece of advice that really spurred you forward? Let me know in the comments.



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