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Anyone else hate "how to do ___" writing advice?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mythopoet, Jan 11, 2018.

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  1. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I am not sure I have ever seen writing advice designed or intended to make your prose blend in with the crowd, or cause less emotion, or harmonize with other writers. Can't recall it. Hell, I think the claims for writing advice are usually "Make your work stand out" or "How to write a bestseller."

    Is there an example of writing advice that you point to so I can better understand what you are talking about?

    I would also suggest that before you take centre stage at Carnegie Hall to unleash your novel dance or discordant originality brilliance, that it would be prudent to learn the basics of movement and how to play your instrument. Just like you should learn the basics of driving before you start left foot braking and using snow banks to scrub off speed like Hanu Mikkola.
     
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  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    HeliotropeHeliotrope and RussRuss

    I think you two have both missed the point that was being made above. I and others in this thread are pointing out the problem with presenting writing advice as prescriptive, or pretending it represents some absolute truth. You may not like the use of exceptions to disprove that notion, but that's exactly what an exception does when someone is trying to present something as an absolute. The problem lies in the presentation of the advice itself, not the accurate statements made by others in pointing out the advice (contrary to how presented) does not always hold up.

    I also don't believe in misleading new writers.

    Whether certain advice is apt to give good results to a substantial majority of writers, or is generally good, etc., is an entirely separate discussion, and one that can be had once we dispense with the fiction that any such advice is universal and absolute.

    You can complain about acknowledging exceptions all you want, or point out whether we are or are not Joyce/Faulkner/Woolf/McCarthy or whoever, but the fact remains if you are presenting writing advice as prescriptive, must-follows rules for writers of any level of experience whatsoever, then a single exception demonstrates your error. If you're not in favor of presenting writing advice in that manner, then we are likely in agreement.
     
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  3. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    They're not so much rules as suggestions. A good author is one who engages their intended audience. And even then they can miss the mark. Is it safe to agree we've probably all read books that were written well but didn't sink in with us? What does 'written well' mean anyway? The only way to tell is if a book pleases its audience. Some can say that this is subjective but it really isn't. There are books that suck out there.

    Developing as an author just means you keep going. While I do agree with Mytho the writing articles are getting old maybe it's because we've reached a point where they don't matter anymore (for us). At some point we let go of the training wheels. Then occasionally we go back and read that beginner advice to get a different perspective. Maybe it hits maybe it doesn't. We shrug and move on. Talking about craft doesn't actually require us to *do* any *work*, which isn't healthy either. We only grow by actually *writing*. The actual writing should be the focus, and I wonder if this is what the OP is trying to say.
     
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  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes. And they're generally suggestions that assume the author is trying to write a certain type of book--more or less generic (in terms of voice and style) commercial fiction. For those types of works, such advice is more often than not pretty good.
     
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I don't think we missed the point, I think you are arguing a straw man. Nobody here is suggesting that any particular writing advice represents an absolute truth. No one is proposing the fiction that you feel needs to be dispensed with.

    And surely you agree that there is an overwhelming consensus of what the rules of grammar are in English?
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you look back through the thread, the point I and others have made is that writing advice is sometimes presented that way (not necessarily by anyone here), and my post was intended to address that approach to writing advice.
     
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    There is a consensus as to what they are. There appears to be a lack of consensus as to whether one can break them, which of course one can.
     
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Not to be pedantic, but I think the question is should one break them, not can.

    If one is feeling repressed by or oppressed by, or really just doesn't like structured writing advice, than one should not seek it out. I don't like Justin Bieber's music so I don't buy it or listen to it, but I don't suggest that he stop playing or others should not listen to him.

    But if the reaction to one's work is often negative because of issues related to that structured writing advice, maybe one should heed it. Or make peace with negative reactions to one's work.

    Breaking the rules of grammar should be a calculated risk, you can't make that calculation without knowing those rules.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    None of this is contrary to anything I said, so we may well be in agreement.
     
  10. Hallen

    Hallen Scribe

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    In all the forums and books and well-meaning advice that we get and give, it is so very, very important to just write. One can easily lose themselves in all the suggestions and warnings and "rules" that are not rules but guidelines, format, and grammar and forget that the most important thing is to write. So I agree, find yourself in your writing. Don't lose yourself in the rules.

    Having said that, I like to look at storytelling as an evolution. The most obvious example are the sciences. All that we do today is built on the knowledge that came before. We push it a bit further all the time. We learn more. Nobody goes back and retries leaching as a curative for the flu because we have this knowledge.

    In writing, we have learned a lot about what creates stories that people are entertained by. It's silly to utterly overlook that in order to maintain your way of writing. Maybe, just maybe, you are the next wonderful thing that changes the world. But, probably not. Chances are, if you learn what does and does not work, in general, you will enhance your inner genius and produce something even better. The key is not getting lost in the details and to keep writing your stories.
     
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  11. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    Without debating the definition of "story," you cannot possibly know there was never a time when someone told a story on their own merits, before the first time someone taught or helped another person tell one. You have no proof to back up your claim that the belief stated by myself and others is a myth or a fantasy. Unless you have an exhaustive list of examples, it doesn't matter how strongly you believe something or how many examples from history you can quote, the strength of your belief and a few examples does not make your belief true. Unless you're a god who existed before humanity and have all the knowledge of human existence, your quoted statement above is authoritative speech that cannot possibly be authoritative. That type of statement is the very type of statement the OP expressed annoyance with.

    Personally, I take the above quoted statement strictly as your opinion, and recognize you belief it very strongly based on trusted sources. I won't change my opinion even though you stated your opinion in an authoritative manner. I can be annoyed at you, however.

    For the record, I'm not annoyed at you. I enjoy these kinds of discussions. I trust you aren't annoyed by what I've said above. It's okay if we have a good laugh at each other though, yeah?
     
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  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I just wonder if it's possible to start up a thread looking for like-minded people without attracting a ton of contrary people trying to argue and debate.
     
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  13. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    You are missing my point totally.

    When I said that the arts of Storytelling pre-dates The famous writing rules what I mean are the how-to-write rules (or tools, or suggestions or whatever that people want to call them) that are so prevalent in Writing sites today, Mythic Scribes and others. You know, the famous show don't tell and avoiding adverbs and that infodumps are bad and having perfect Grammar and the tension stuff and all that.

    I mean the whole writing-is-science atmosphere, which I consider as flawed.

    Many very famous books from a long time ago do not follow such rules, they are way more natural and yet they were very successful and even became classics. Today however (and especially in the Internet), aspiring authors are bombarded with the how to write system and it gets so repetitive that it becomes annoying, like Mythopoet expressed in the original post of this thread.

    That's what I call natural learning, or the natural tendencies (not rules) in storytelling that have changed from a time to another.

    Many times in threads like this one various people have misunderstood me, thinking that I give no importance to the act of learning how to write stories. I give it importance indeed, but I favor the natural and instinctive methods of learning instead of the colder, classroom-style methods that are often discussed in this site and many others.

    The professor that I talked about in my first post of this thread is a good example of that.

    Just watching and listening to that man telling stories to my entire class definitely left something in me, a type of natural learning that cannot be taught in other ways. It's like having a natural instinct for something, but still you need to be exposed to the ability in question so you can awaken it in yourself and start to develop the skills in your own personal way.

    He was the Music professor by the way, not even a Spanish professor.

    In sharp contrast, I was exposed to a different professor in another school some years later. She confidently explained to the class that writing stories was a matter of learning a calculated and artificial structure and rules, like the three-act structure and others, and that was all. That stories were supposed to always follow those scientific methods, because otherwise they would not work.

    I hated that professor a lot, but it was a good experience for me because it showed me that following my own natural style and my own imagination was a much better path. That in storytelling what really matters are the heart and imagination of a true storyteller, that it's a matter of inspiration because what makes the difference is what we have inside.

    All the knowledge and training in the world are not going to help much if you do not have great stories to tell, if you do not have the natural ability to imagine and tell stories. Those with the highest education in writing are not necessarily good with storytelling, and at the same time many great works of literature have come from people that never received that type of education in the slightest.

    I want to quote Michael again:

    Exactly the same happens to me.

    When I see the repetitive how-to-write discussions in some forum, I find them just as distant and strange as if they were something from a different planet. I start thinking: Do they actually think about all that stuff while working on a story?

    If you ask me how I tell stories, the only answer that I can give is that stories are with me. It's like having a friend, like the story just shows itself in my mind and my heart with all details and I just have to write it down. It feels like exploring and reporting about things that really happened, not like I was inventing it. Others have described the feeling like the act of receiving a magical transmission from a different world.

    I do not claim that's what actually happens, but it's exactly what it feels like.

    And that's why I am so annoyed by the How to Write atmosphere: I fear that others like me out there might fall for the scientific and calculated methods at the very start of their journey, and ignore their natural style and personal abilities in favor of following the established patterns that most agents and publishers are looking for.

    This is sometimes mocked, but I'll say it again: The best storytelling/writing advice is to follow your own imagination and heart.
     
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  14. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Start it and see? I'd love to chat more about creativity without splitting hairs.
     
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  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, that was the purpose of this thread. Hence the title asking "anyone else" and not saying "what do you think about". But I suspect no force in the verse can stop people on this forum from arguing. I really didn't want to argue. I was just looking for like-minded people.
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Post another thread if you like, and make clear that you want to discuss the issue with people who are in agreement. I'll follow up with a comment asking people to restrict the thread to a productive discussion of approaching the craft from that particular viewpoint, and asking people not to debate the viewpoint itself. Anyone wishing to create a new thread for the purpose of debating can do so quite easily with the simple click of a mouse, or can continue to debate in this thread.
     
  17. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The way I'm thinking of things is either someone is following a specific structure or they're not, either they're following the rules of grammar or they're not, either they're showing or they're not. That to me not subjective.

    Whether these things are used effectively is subjective. Whether a person uses these things or not is up to them. It's not right or wrong to do so. But, I've always been on the side of know the rules before you break the rules.

    I don't think anyone in this thread, including me, has said you can't break the rules of grammar, or whatever other "rules" are out there.

    In terms of the OP and How-To-Do-X stuff and the way they're presented. I'll say again, I see them as trying to teach something. In teaching environments, things get simplified for the sake of clarity and to allow students to absorb information more easily. They get stated in black and white absolute terms so as to not confuse the student or overload them with too much information.

    There are always exceptions. But, to list them all or dive into a tangent explaining them isn't always practical or constructive, especially if it needs to be short.

    I do understand the OP's frustration at the tone in some of these articles, books, etc. But if one can overlook the irritation, there can be lots of useful information to be gleaned.
     
  18. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    So what do you want to discuss? Anything in particular?
     
  19. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    To be honest, nothing at the moment. Yesterday morning I did, but not anymore. :)
     
  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    RussRuss, I very much want to go without answering your question. But I'm feeling sick today, so my judgement is impaired, and that's probably the only reason I'm doing this.

    Let's start with the most basic concept, the course of a writer's career. Google "stages of a writer's career," and you'll see it described something like this:

    - Amateur, you have a lot of garbage and not much to show yet.
    - Professional, some of what you have is good enough to sell.
    - Master, you can comfortably create work and expect it to sell.

    The thing is, researchers have studied the lives of the creative masters, like Picasso and Shakespeare, and this is how they describe the stages of their careers.

    - Exploration. The artist tries a large variety of different techniques, and it all comes out as garbage. But despite the overall poor quality of the work, there are still hints of the creative style and techniques that will eventually become the hallmark of their career. This is a phase of discovering one's talent.

    - Refinement. The artist begins to focus on improving the quality of their skills, producing works designed to practice specific techniques and become better as an artist. The artist's Magnum Opus, the piece that represents the height of their abilities and their contribution to the artists, is typically written in the back-half of this stage.

    - Old Age (I swear that's what I remember it being called....). Once the artist has become confident in their voice and their audience, they stop trying to impress everyone and focus more on exactly what they want to say. Creativity goes down, and the use of themes goes up, because the artist is no longer trying to build an audience but speak to the audience.

    The problem that I have with most writing advice is that it encourages people to skip the exploration step and focus directly on refinement. It's too early for most people, and that step is too important to overlook. You have to take some time to focus on what you want to create, what you want to do with your skills, before you sit around thinking "Am I using too much passive voice?" Yes, you probably are, but that's not the point. "Does my character want something?" He probably should, but that's still not the point. It's a distraction. The very first thing you should write for:

    What is it that I find I want to do most with my writing?

    Nothing matters until you answer that question, either consciously or intuitively, and with a depth that's entirely your own. And I don't mean answer it like an essay question. I mean answering it by doing it, by discovering it in your work after pouring through tens or hundreds of thousands of words and more creative concepts than you can keep track of in your head.

    If you start by focusing on the rules, you're starting with limits that will hold you back.
     
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