2013 was really a pretty major change for me. I walked away mid-year from two writing message boards I had been on for years because so much of the bad advice was polluting my writing in a major way. I also stopped reading a lot of writing advice blogs. I still read some, but I’m very picky about what I do read.
So what was the best and worst advice of the year?
You must outline.
This is one of the things I consistently heard variations of on the message boards. I’m a pantser and when people hear that, they tend to treat me like I’m broken or my stories are so totally messed up they will never get published.
But over the last year, I tossed out most of the writing advice I’d seen and followed my instincts. Once I did that, I could see how many writing how-tos and advice out assumes you’re outlining or applies outlining techniques to fix pantsing issues. Another writer told me that the skills do cross over, but she was also a writer who preferred outlining but could write without an outline. So she would have been more comfortable with the outlining techniques to start with. From the side of the extreme pantser, I saw NO skills cross over. It was really eye opening when I took workshops from pantsers and saw how different the approach was.
Trust the process.
This has been the hardest thing for me, but it gets easier as I work on it more. Being a pantser at times is scary because I really can’t see where I’m going. I don’t know how the story is going to end, and sometimes I’m tempted to try to figure that out (a piece of outlining advice that sneaks in). But I’ve also really wrecked stories doing that. I’d end up writing to the ending and not in the direction the story needed to go.
It’s also where all the message boards and blogs created issues. Every piece of advice seems to assume you’re doing it wrong and advises you not to trust yourself. I remember asking a writer on a blog for help on a long-standing problem and she berated me — writing unseen — for not using character worksheets like she did. (Characterization and story are my strengths.) It turned out the problem was using outliner techniques that didn’t work for me in combination with not trusting that my process would produce what I needed.
Both the best and worst advice was why I walked away from message boards and most blogs. Sometimes you’re not doing it wrong. Sometimes what people are telling you is wrong.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve seen this year?