The Thinking RobotI’ve been spending some time trying to clean out my digital ‘closet,’ in addition to the real closet.  I’m shocked at how many files I’ve accumulated, and moreover, how many files I downloaded and then never paid attention to again.

It’s all clutter that wears on me, so I’ve been zapping it into the recycle bin as I find it.

But it’s amazing the amount of information that is available to us.  We can go online and look up Eddie Mannix (a fixer for MGM in the 1940s) and even post something that we know for everyone else to read.

Which is also a problem.

There’s so much information available that we have to sharpen our critical thinking skills.  They’re more natural for me as an INTP, where logic is the first place I head, but even it’s hard for me.  It’s easy to get taken in, especially when the other person is saying what we want to hear.

When I was on writing message boards, this type of attitude ran rampant.  People actively said, “I can learn something from other beginners,” and dissed best-selling writers as not knowing what they were doing.

The result is not questioning enough of the right things, which I see everywhere.


The messages coming at us are so powerful that people actually question what should be common sense.  


It seems worse for writers.  They want validation or to have a best seller so they can quit the day job.

So it’s easy to listen to the emotional messages from people who are good at selling, but not skilled as writers.

Some examples:

Description is boring.  Get rid of it all.  It’s not important.

I’ve hard variations of this one in many places.   Common sense should be to head to a best seller like Michael Connelly and see if he’s left off the description.  BTW, he has wonderful descriptions of Los Angeles, all told from the opinion of Harry Bosch.  Michael Connelly has also got something 20+ books.

What’s bad is that when writers flock to other writers and get critiques, the comments are generally that their description is boring.  It probably is because they just tossed in obligatory description without a thought about what they could do with the characterization.  So everyone says get rid of it, not fix it.

I interact with a traditionally published mid-list writer.  She advises writers to keep the description to a minimum—and no one questions this (except me).  It all fits into the narrative that description is boring, not that it needs to be done well.

And that writer has a series set in a place I went frequently when I was growing up.  You wouldn’t know the place from any other generic place.  No description of it.  Kind of sad.

You must outline.  Pantsing doesn’t work.

Yeah, I had to get this one in here.  It is a hobby horse for me because I ran into so much of it.  The group think veers to outlining and pressures everyone to conform.

What’s bad is no one checks out the source of this particular piece of advice.  It nearly always comes from two sources: Other beginning writers recommending it to each other and developmental editors.

Other beginning writers haven’t worked out their process yet.  And they’re giving advice on how to write a book.  Hmm.

Developmental editors are likely to see only the messed up stories of first time writers who are still learning craft and attribute it incorrectly to not outlining.

Race through the first draft and don’t look back.  You can fix everything on the revision.

Honestly, this one really needs a critical thinking Gibbs head slap.  Think about this:

You write the story and do it stream of consciousness.  Just leave out all the punctuation.

Now you come to the revision and you now have to spend a lot of time fixing that–and chances are it will never be right.

If we don’t have enough time in the first place, why do it in such a way that it takes even more time?

It’s terribly easy to go on auto-pilot, especially with all the digital clutter of the world.  Critical thinking is also a difficult skill to master, not only because it rewires our brain…but because there are so many things that keep challenging it.