Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Never take writing advice

Great article by Laura Miller at Salon on "Reader advice for writers." Writers do tend to flock to writers for advice and revising, but you'd probably be better off with readers, people who have no aspirations to art and won't pretend to be smarter than they really are. In other words, they'll be honest.

I love to hear from readers, especially younger readers. It doesn't happen often, but when someone says, "You're my new favorite writer," that is incredibly humbling. I don't know how "serious" I am. I did take some university writing classes but I was well out of them before I tried writing commercial fiction. Somewhere along the way, I stopped taking myself so seriously, though I still take the work seriously. Under the crown of "the world's laziest hack," I'm free to indulge in whatever detour I care to take. But I thought my lessons had value, so I wrote many articles about them.

That's sort of the theme involved in the Write Good or Die project. I've long tinkered with the idea of a writing book, since everybody thinks they know something on the subject. But the reality is, each writer only knows one way of doing things. And that way may not even be working for that writer. You see heads nod at the convention panels when someone says, "Find out what the trends are before they're trends." What the hell does that mean?

Most of the writing advice I've dispensed is not advice I've taken or followed. Sometimes it just sounds like the kind of thing a writer ought to say: "Write every day. Buy cheap paper. Have a wise-cracking, lovable tough guy as your protagonist, or a blonde lawyer. Be paranoid of the publishing industry." It's all a boatload of crap. I don't know very much, and in fact thought of calling the writing guide "Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong," which is the only advice I can deliver with a straight face. Some of my wisdom came from luck, other parts from circumstances that could never be reproduced. Some is hopelessly dated ("You need an agent. You'll find your audience if you keep working. Never self-publish.") Other bon mots were dumb even when they were fresh ("Read all the writing books you can find.")

Here's some advice: Never have more than four words in your book title. Unless you wrote "In The Electric Mists With the Confederate Dead." Or "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Here's some more advice: Write what you know. Unless you're a science fiction writer, a thriller writer, a romance writer, a...well, never mind. If you write fiction, you're already a liar.

How about my second choice for a title?: "All Writing Advice is Wrong." Better, but still too long. So we go with "Write Good or Die." Four words. True words. That's all I got.



cpolkinhorn said...

"Some is hopelessly dated ("You need an agent . . ."
Well, thank you, Scott. I knew I could junk those useless queries. Christa

author Scott Nicholson said...

Oh, you still need an agent if your market is six publishing companies. Didn't you read the headline? Never take writing advice! ;)

cpolkinhorn said...

Oh, dear, what would I want with six publishing companies?? I am closer than ever to putting my book on Amazon and spend my time promoting it rather than writing queries ad nauseum. That way I get to design my own cover and so on. Besides, your enthusiasm is contagious.
I love the Skull Ring. I was up until midnight last night reading it. Now, I'm bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. Your fault. Christa

cpolkinhorn said...

"Dear Ms. Polkinhorn,

Thank you for your email. For various reasons, not least the current market, we shall not be requesting you to submit your material to us.

We do however thank you for thinking of us and wish you better luck elsewhere. We would also ask you to please forgive this standard email, but we receive so many requests that we cannot reply to all of them individually.

Yours faithfully,"

See what I mean? This one is from the UK. They seem to be a little more polite there? Christa

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hey, at least they responded at all. That's better than 90 percent of these informed, passionate, and genteel folks can be bothered to do.

cpolkinhorn said...

For most of my email queries I got a standard email-answer. Okay, I should be grateful I guess and kiss . . . nah, I'd rather go and read the Skull Ring. Cheers.