Today, in my twitter feed, I read a comment that “The biggest lesson most writers need to learn is to avoid editing as you write.”
Now, I consider myself an edit-as-I-go writer, so this made me curious. I clicked on the link and read this woman’s advice on writing. I see she’s qualified that the statement is for most writers, but this just makes me wonder where she gets her data from. Was there a study? Perhaps she explains that in one of the several how-to books she’s selling on the subject.
Here’s the thing: writing advice is so valuable. I love to listen to different writers share their different approaches for what works for them. It’s inspiring and it always reminds me how many different paths there are to a similar goal.
The problem with writing advice is that often it’s delivered as if it’s coming from an expert who is letting you in on an absolute secret about the definitive correct way to do it.
My advice is that before you take advice (even mine), do two things: 1. consider the source and 2. decide if the advice rings true for you.
If you’re a big fan of Stephen King and you’re interested in learning how to write the kind of books he writes in the way he writes them, you might want to read On Writing. There are other helpful manuals written by other kinds of writers. Find one that’s right for you.
Not everyone writes like Stephen King or Charles Bukowski or Earnest Hemingway or Anne Lamott or Ray Bradbury or Sol Stein. Not everyone wants to. I’m sure each one of those authors has helpful nuggets of wisdom to share and I think new writers should be open to all of it, but skeptical when it doesn’t resonate.
The one-size-fits-all advice is something I see more and more as writers are pressured to create content for blogs that will strengthen their “platform”. I don’t think it’s helpful and I’m especially dismayed by how-to book writers claiming to be experts so they can make money off newbie writers. I think it’s exploitative.
Writers who make it through the gauntlet to publishing should absolutely share what worked for them with writers coming up after them. The stories are as fascinating as they are diverse. Some writers get an MFA while others are self-taught. Some writers plot everything out on color-coded note cards while others begin writing without any idea where their characters will take them. Some writers work in seclusion while others rely on supportive writers groups. Some edit only when their first draft is complete while others edit as they’re writing.
The more of these stories you hear, the clearer it becomes that there are many different ways to do it. I think, especially for new writers, the biggest lesson to learn is which advice to take and which advice to ignore.