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Advice on advice

Discussion in 'Ask the Staff' started by Svrtnsse, Dec 15, 2013.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    There's a lot of great advice being dished out here on the forums. There's advice on how to write and how not to write. There's advice on how to build worlds and create characters. There's advice on how to lay out plots or draw maps or bake muffins.
    There's a lot of advice here.

    One thing I noticed is that along with all this advice often comes a discussion about the nature of advice and rules and about doing your own thing. It often boils down to "don't accept all advice blindly", put more or less bluntly. Don't get me wrong, this in itself is a good advice and it's always given with good intentions - as far as I've been able to tell.
    However, despite the good intentions it tends to take away from or even derail the original topic and we end up with a discussion about the how to the nature of guidelines and rules and all that jazz. It's not a bad discussion. As a new writer I've fallen headfirst into the trap of taking on too much of some advice I've been given. I tend to think that if something has happened to me, it's probably happened to others as well. I'm sure you've been there too, right?

    Being told that there are more than one way of doing things and that you should go with what feels right for you shouldn't be necessary, but it's easy to forget it - especially when you get overwhelmed by new and sensible advice from people who seem more experienced and more confident than you are.

    I was thinking it might be a good idea to have a discussion/sticky thread on the topic on advice and writing rules and how to accept and deal with them. That way maybe the threads with the advice themselves could be kept on topic for a little longer, and people who are new and are trying to learn may pick up on some useful hints along the way.

    Thoughts on this?
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    A sticky on just that topic is one of a few ideas that we've been discussing. Thank you for bringing it up - we will continue to discuss it and any feedback that's posted here until we've settled on the best course of action.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Right, so it's lunch time. I'll give this a go.

    First of all: Think For Yourself.
    There are few, if any, absolute truths when it comes to how to tell a story the best way. However, there are many ways of doing things right - not to mention wrong. If someone gives you advice of how to do something, it's usually because they've found that it works for them. Their methods may not be right for you, but you may still learn something from them.
    When someone gives you advice, don't just follow it blindly. Make sure you understand the advice itself and that you understand the reasoning behind it. This goes even for advice that at first don't seem to be for you. Even if you don't intend to follow it, ask yourself what the purpose of the advice is and how it's meant to achieve that purpose.
    From that, you might learn something new and in that lies the real value in the advice.

    Second: Ask And Argue.
    All advice may not be obvious. When you come across something you don't understand; ask what's meant. If someone's gone to the trouble of giving you advice, it's almost certainly because they feel it's good advice that they like to share. It follows that they'd be interested in making sure you get their point. Asking doesn't mean you're stupid. It also doesn't necessarily mean that the advice is unclear or bad. Often, especially if you're just starting out, it's simply that the advice touches upon subjects and concepts that you're not familiar with.
    It's better to ask so that you can learn and grow and benefit from the advice.
    If you don't agree with some advice you've been given: argue about it. Arguing gives you the opportunity to think about the topic and it can help you gain new insights which may be useful to you.
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  4. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

    I'll piggyback on that:

    Third: Remember.
    Advice that doesn't fit for you now or that you don't know what to do with may be exactly the advice you need later as your writing develops or when you take on a different kind of project.
    deilaitha and T.Allen.Smith like this.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I'd like to add, since I'm one of the people who likes to help out...

    Say thanks. Sometimes we get negative critiques. Sometimes, we get advice on how to outline or whatever and we know we aren't going to use the techniques that work well for other writers, but we always need to be thankful for the opportunity to learn. Someone took their time to answer a question, read our work, etc. and it's just a small kindness that we thankn them for their time. I always try to let people know how much I appreciate that they've given me their time, even if I wsn't thrilled with the crit or whatever. Respect is an important thing to maintain even when two people don't necessarily see eye-to-eye.

    Advice can be a tricky thing, for the giver and receiver. Sometimes it leads to a relationship where both people benefit, sometimes it is just a little help or nudge from one writer to another. I believe it's important to keep those doors open for whatever reason and always let someone know I value their time. Sometimes I try to pay them back by reciprocating, other times, I merely take someone's crit and pass on another to another fellow writer. I believe this is a forum built on good will and if you cannot pay back the person who gave you good advice, pass some advice on to another. It all comes back to you. :)
    deilaitha, Delwyn, JRFLynn and 2 others like this.
  6. Delwyn

    Delwyn Dreamer

    I think that another good point to make is that advice is based on the opinion of the advice-giver. I am also on Book Country and happy to be there. I've received great advice and feedback, which has helped with honing my work and correcting punctuation errors. The main problem I find - there as well as other sites - is that when I start receiving conflicting advice, it confuses me and makes the editing and reviewing process even more daunting.

    For example: I was told by one reviewer that I ended my first chapter on too happy a note! She told me that readers would turn away from my book - feeling like there was no point in continuing. I pointed out that I was happy to leave it at that, as the idea of my protagonist being blissfully unaware of what was around the corner built tension. Like the princess picking flowers as a dragon stalks her - she thought that everything was hearts and sunshine. I expected that the readers would understand that it was only Chapter One - and that much more was going to happen!

    Well - I ended up doubting myself and finally changed the ending. I included a sense of foreboding with a statement from the narrator's perspective, along the lines of "..but it was the calm before the storm!" It wasn't long before another reviewer came along and criticized this new ending - saying that it was unnecessary and that it was me talking - not the character. Initially it was the character - so after the second review I was confused. Leave it in or take it out? I went along with my initial feeling - which was leave the happy ending - as the character had moved to a nice place after a bad event and was happy to have some temporary respite.

    Without going on and on - other issues can include: nitpicking, bias, misunderstanding, personal preferences and even jealousy! You can tell a good review and what constitutes good advice. It's helpful, concise and objective. If you try to maintain confidence in your ability, then you can learn how to take the bad advice with a grain of salt. And as Caged Maiden advised - remember that at least they took the time to read your stuff!
    LordFalco likes this.
  7. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    This is a great thread. Advice is really easy to get caught up in (it's one of my own downfalls), and it's good to remind people that it's not the end-all be-all.

    If we're trying to come up with handy maxims regarding advice, (or is that advice in and of itself?) I have a couple of suggestions.

    Listen to advice (don't ignore it), but don't swallow it like pure doctrine handed down from the heavens (think for yourself, as Svrtnsse said).

    Most writers are rule-breakers. Advice is a guideline, not an absolute.

    Be open-minded and generous in your conduct.

    All of the other suggestions on this thread have been really good, and to be honest, mine mostly seems like a re-hashing of others' comments.

    I have to grin though, because we're pretty much coming up with advice on how to give/receive advice. :)
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    In case anyone missed it, this thread was necromanced from a long time ago. Which is fine, but things may have changed a bit from the earlier parts of the discussion.

    I saw an analogy come across my feed from Lifehacker. The advice is to treat criticism like an old hat and try it on before you decide. For now I'll just leave it at that.
    deilaitha and Legendary Sidekick like this.
  9. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    Advice is always coloured with the beliefs of the one giving the advice.

    I like my Fantasy and science fiction fairly hard - with good explanations, or at the very least a good logical and non-contradictory structure. I often find it hard to read anything else - and impossible to write it as I get very picky about what is and isn't possible in my worlds.

    But I know damn well that this isn't the only approach worth taking - I've read and hugely enjoyed plenty of novels and stories that trash all over these beliefs. For example I could never write like Terry Pratchet - but I like reading him immensely.

    There's huge contradictions in that I know - but the only answer is to seek opinion and advice but treat all of it with a pinch of salt.

    Advice is essential - its the only way you get an outside opinion and perspective on your ideas and work - but remember it 's advice - not an order or a requirement that has to be complied with.

    My 'day job' is designing games, and it's a good comparison because we're very keen on finding out what people like (and don't like) but. the one thing you can never take into consideration is asking people what they 'want'! Because whatever it is they can articulate is something that they'll agree with and possibly like, but they'll never love it - people only love the unexpected (even if they winge about it a bit).
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I have two pieces of advice on advice.

    1. Present your best work. Don't ask for a review of your work if it's not in the best shape you can make it. By a similar logic, don't ask how you look if you're only half dressed. Or, at least, don't be offended by the reply!

    2. Get multiple voices. And then pay attention to them. If one person says a particular thing, you might agree at once and make the revision, and that's fine. But if eight people all say more or less the same thing, then take a hard look at your work. I'd even go so far as to say make a stab at the revision, even if you still disagree. The main thing is, don't just take the first review and either despair or celebrate. It's just one voice.

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