Friday, November 18, 2005

Priceless Advice: Intro

Published authors love to toss out advice with the cheery benevolence of bead-throwers at a Mardi Gras parade. And why not?

After all, we've crawled on our knees and elbows through the battlefield, marveled at our survival, and now assume that we succeeded in finding an audience because We Did Something Right. That Something must be shared, must be handed down to new writers with such conviction that they believe it originated on a stone tablet from Mt. Sinai.

The problem is, most advice is based on our own experience and therefore may not apply to the writer beginning a career two, five, ten, twenty, or even fifty years after we did. Not only does the business change over time, but what works for me won't necessarily work for you, due to differences in temperament, style, and circumstance.

Beware of writers who say, “You must do it my way.” For example:

“You must outline your entire novel before you begin.”


“You must not outline your novel before you begin.”


“You must turn clockwise three times standing on your knuckles while chanting the lyrics to “Ragtime Gal” before you sit down at your computer. If you don’t know the words, look them up, or watch that Warner Brothers cartoon with the singing frog. You want to be a writer, don’t you? DON’T YOU??!!! Then DO IT!! It’s the ONLY WAAAAAAYY!”

My cynical side (it’s really more of a “chunk” than a “side”) wonders if some published writers give bad advice on purpose so as to reduce their competition (see Mark Leyner’s Et Tu, Babe for a pants-wettingly hilarious rendition of this maneuver). That's just the kind of thing I would do--I mean, the kind of thing I could imagine a paranoid, insecure, very bad BAD person doing.

But I digress, further and further. Story of my life.

Yesterday I read an article in a writing magazine that dispensed the most laughably unrealistic and rigid advice imaginable. It was intended to inspire and motivate, but it made me--and many other writers, no doubt--feel inadequate and guilty for falling short, for being merely human. (More on that Monday.)

I'm starting a weekly series of blog posts debunking some of the most popular bits of conventional wisdom and mythology surrounding the writing life. When the series is finished, I'll post it somewhere else on the website so it can be read all at once, in a (hopefully) more polished form.

Eventually I'll get around to the one piece of advice that's not horse-hockey: To be a writer, you must write.

Come back Monday for Part One: Writing Routines, or Can I Get a Bouncer for My Office Door?



Generally anything beginning with "On Becoming a ____" is useless. So it is with writing.

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 11/21/2005 10:37 PM

Yeah, I got no help whatsoever from that classic self-help tome, On Becoming a Lion-Tamer. Now I'm what they call encephally challenged.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 11/23/2005 8:55 AM

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