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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. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    See, I just don't see this at all. I find that most of the writer advice is out there for people who are moving past the exploration phase and into the refinement phase. None of it, that I have ever seen, suggest skipping the exploration phase. It is almost always aimed at writers who are looking to take their writing to the next level.

    Right. But eventually you have to move on. And that is when you start googling "how do I avoid passive voice?" and you read articles. Eventually you get to the point where you are finding that your story might need a more effective structure so you go to Amazon and order some books on plotting.

    I have never, ever seen a writer offering advice saying "here is a paint by numbers way of writing stories." It is always very specific advice aimed at one type of writing issue for people who are actively searching for a solution to that writing issue.

    How long are people expected to stay in the exploration phase for?

    I don't agree with this. Move on when you are ready to move on. If you write only a thousand words and think "Wow, I don't know how to write dialogue." And you are motivated enough to go out and seek help on writing dialogue than DO IT. Don't just sit there writing another hundred thousand words of bad dialogue thinking "I'll learn how to do it properly, later."

    How much later? When is that "later" going to happen? After you have written ten bad novels? After twenty?

    I get the whole "You don't want to stunt writers who are not quite ready yet." But seriously, does that mean advice just shouldn't exist? When writers are ready they will seek out the advice they need. But that is up to them. Not anyone else. Early writers are not delicate little flowers that need to be protected from the big bad world of writing advice.

    Good grief. Some of you make it sound like they are children who shouldn't have their "interest in writing stifled". Okay, I get it if we are talking about eight year olds, but we are talking about adults here. Critically thinking human beings with the capacity to seek out advice and evaluate what they find, in their own time and at their own agenda.

    I entered the 100 words story challenge and didn't win because my stories were not clear and concise enough for the word limit. Fair assessment. If I wanted to write flash fiction than I would need to go out and seek some advice on how other, successful flash writers have managed to do it. I don't just sit around banging a hammer at nails with a blindfold until I hit one.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018
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  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    HeliotropeHeliotrope, I think you don't understand that exploration is real work. It's not about writing aimlessly in a vain hope that something will materialize. It's an active search for figuring yourself out.

    It's only recently that people have begun studying creativity in a real scientific fashion. And the findings are incredible - almost everything that most people believe about creativity is flat-out wrong. Including this notion that it doesn't take real work. Creativity demands work on focus on developing your creative skills. They don't just happen. You have to work on it.

    And working on it requires a total disregard for limits. It's based on one thing - making powerful connections between ideas that are farther and farther apart. If you want to develop your creativity in writing, you have to spend your time thinking about something other than writing while you are writing. If you read in your genre, if you look at the rules, if you think too much about story structure, you're limiting the distance of the ideas you're searching for. You're training your mind to find ideas that are nearest to the writing process instead of farther away.

    That's why it's important to focus on your own creative development before you focus on anything else. You have to develop that creative core, that heart of what you want to do and contribute to your field, before you start focusing on technique.
     
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  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Dude. That's amazing.

    I'm talking about after all that work is done and you realize you need help.

    You can't stay in that stage forever and be successful.
     
  4. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    You'll be a much better writer regardless (if you've made it to 20 written novels).

    Helio, with all due respect, I don't believe this was the OP's point. I understood the OP to be less cautionary and more venting.

    DevorDevor: Exploration IS real work. The only way to get through it is to get through it. I learn way more by actually writing and finishing my work vs reading articles but yeah, sometimes the articles are helpful, too.
     
  5. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I was directing that at Devor. Not the OP.
     
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Actually, Chessie, you are the one who is always in the back of my mind while I'm arguing the value of education. You have soooooo much knowledge about navigating the self-pub industry. You know a lot about marketing, what venues to pursue, what your reader's are looking for, what type of characters they like, what level of 'sex' to add or not to add to your romances.... So much stuff! A lot of that must have come from going out and learning about what that market requires. It took a ton of hard work and determination. It wasn't just through exploratory writing. At some point you must have said "Hmmmmm, I really want to do this." And put yourself out there to learn how to do it?

    At some point, of course, you must have come across an article or two that was just not relevant to you, but as a grown adult you knew what to take and what to leave behind.
     
  7. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Well, yes. It's good to stay educated on the industry and continue growing in our craft. But what I'm saying is that I don't think the OP's point is to dispute the importance of education. She's merely venting at all the writing articles out there saying do it this way or that. I took it as venting. (and yes, I do work hard! Thank you! x)
     
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  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    As I've said before I think the most important thing for a new writer to do is discover his or her voice. You've got to work out who you are and who you want to be before you start allowing other voices to change that. And the real danger is that for beginner writers is that they'll take the advice that's given as gospel - no matter how it's presented. And I know most people here and in other fora try to say that it's only advice they're giving. But it doesn't matter how many times you say that - some if not all fledgling writers are going to hear what is said as being right and they're wrong. That's the way you get formulaic writing and stories and stifle creativity and passion. That's why I think most writing advice is bad for fledgling writers. It may be good advice - but is it good for you?

    I'd also like to say I loved Devor's post about the different stages of mastery in whatever field. For the initial "explorer" it's far more important that s/he learn the sort of writer they are / want to be than the so-called "rules".

    The best way I can explain my view, is with my own experience. Like everyone else I started out writing alone in the dark!!! With just a computer etc. And I only wrote for me. And I was happy with that. I liked the stories I wrote. It wasn't until much later when I started thinking about getting to stage of writing a novel and publishing that I started looking at the craft. Joining fora, getting critiques of my work, listening to the various rules etc. And when I did, I took some of it on board, and left some of it on the table. Because I had spent all that time learning about who I was as a writer I was eventually able to say when I read advice or took criticism, yes I agree or no I don't. People who don't spend that time exploring their own writing voice, have a much harder time doing that in my view.

    So my sentences are often too long (though not as long as they used to be), have too many clauses (again not as many as once), my punctuation is simplistic (as it always has been), and I use a lot more purple prose than I need to (because I like it). I also tend to over describe some things and use excess verbiage. But hey - those aren't faults. They aren't wrong and they aren't failures. Those are my voice. If they don't happen to fit perfectly with a particular style or certain rules, that's not my problem. I like my long, loopy sentences full of purple prose dammit!

    And even having gone through that process, I still took all criticism, all advice I read when I read it, to heart for a long time. I questioned myself. I started initially accepting everyone elses opinions as gospel and mine as somehow wrong. It took me ages to get past that. To realise that it's my opinion that matters when it comes to my work.

    My point though, isn't exactly that. It's more of a question. If I'd started out reading writing advice and writing according to it - who would I now be as a writer? Would I be me? Or would I just be another John Smith putting out formulaic work? I think my answer to that is that I'd rather be me. Call me brilliant or terrible - it doesn't matter. What matters is that I write my story my way. Some will like it, some won't. But at least I'm not writing someone elses story their way.

    I think the thought that I would share with all new writers, is to stay as far away from critiques and advice as you can until you're ready in your own mind. And then when you finally think you're confident enough to go down that road while holding on to who you are as a writer, remember that everything you read and everything that you're told is only opinion. This isn't maths. There isn't only one right answer.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  9. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    Thank you Greg, that was a most wonderful post!

    I sometimes say that the first person that needs to be pleased with a story is the very author. If you are happy with your own work, if you genuinely love your own style and stories then that's going to be reflected in the finished work. Write for yourself in the first place, since this also means that other yous out there would also enjoy and probably love your stories and the way that you tell them.

    Listening to advice and feedback from other people is important too and can sometimes be very helpful, but in the end you are the only person that really knows your stories and what is best to do with them.
     
  10. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    This resonates with me. When I was young and insecure, critiques only served to discourage me. Advice often went unheeded, because I wasn't able to apply it to my work at that time in my writing life--or, worse yet, I sometimes took it the wrong way, and it hindered my development rather than helped it.

    I often wonder how things would be different for me now if I'd not received some of the critiques and well-intended advice that discouraged me in my youth. I believe I'd be much further along with my writing now.

    I also believe there's been a good deal of advice given to me that has been more helpful than harmful, once I was ready to receive it.

    At this stage of my writing life, I like hearing ideas, even those presented as rules, and allowing them to spark new ideas in my brain. I'm at the point where I'm ready to receive advice and criticism, to weigh it for its value and shape it to my needs. So at this point in my life, I don't share the OP's annoyance of others who sometimes come off as writing dictators. When I was younger, it wouldn't have been annoying as much as it could have been harmful.
     
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  11. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    Just on this idea of Exploration vs Refining - and I may be misunderstanding - but I don't see it as having to be "First an author explores, then they refine". I think its quite possible for the two to exist in a never-ending cycle in which we Explore a bit, Refine a bit, Explore a bit off of that etc.etc. It is up to the author to recognise what part of the cycle they're in and what will help them.
     
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  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Sure. First find like-minded people, then ask them over for tea. But public forums are for a diversity of voices. I prefer that. Otherwise, it's too much like talking to oneself.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Heliotrope's remarks about her First Nation story tellers really struck me. Traditional story tellers *always* knew their audience because they always told their stories face to face. That's how stories got told for a very long time.

    Once you get writing, and especially once you get printing, the audience became unknown. Even then, most published books aimed at a particular sort of audience. It's not really until the 19thc that we get stories aimed at a generic "mass audience." That must have changed a number of the basic storytelling paradigms.

    A bit OT, I know, but perhaps this is one reason why writing rules have become so much more, er, flexible since that time.
     
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  14. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Ha! Perhaps writing rules are at their most flexible right now than they have ever been. At least now we have Amazon where pretty much anyone can publish whatever they want without being beheaded. It may not necessarily get read... or get good reviews... but you won't be executed for it.
     
  15. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    And that's the point. We can welcome a variety of voices that don't all sound like Midwest radio announcers.
     
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  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yeah, that's fair. Again, that was me going by memory of an analysis of famous artistic careers, but the actual day to day is never that simple. Nor would I tell anyone that it was somehow too late to develop their creative skills because they've done too much literary studying - just maybe that they have to shift their thinking for a bit to get there.

    ((edit))

    Also, writing advice is not all created equally. I mentioned earlier in the thread that I saw about 60% of it as keeping one in the choir. That's because about 60% of the writing advice I see is about cutting back. Most writing advice - at least, most common writing advice - is geared towards tightening up your writing, cutting back on the high-skills parts where an amateur writer usually just makes themselves look bad. That advice I think holds you back - because it actively keeps you from exploring - if you haven't rooted your creative skills yet.

    There is plenty of other writing advice that doesn't do that.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
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  17. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    This is god's ain truth.

    Having thought about this one a little more - I feel I'm a bit in the middle.

    I definitely think that the writing advice out there can do more harm than good. I think there's plenty that's too prescriptive, too narrow - but then how broad can someone be in one article - and I think its easy to stumble on a totality that doesn't address everything a reader needs to know. I think I agree with you there.

    However - other advice is out there - and ultimately its on the would-be author to work out what's useful and what's not, when to listen and when to believe in themselves. And that part is often given in the advice! And - crucially - I think its a lot more on the author to do that work themselves to sift rather than on the advice giver to cover every single base. All the advice giver can do is give what they think is useful.

    Maybe we need more people to take a bigger, more holistic, up to date stance on writing stories - but even then, there'll always be a place for questions of writing syle. And it'll always be on the writer to work out what's best for them.

    Btw, I'd *love* to read more of your thoughts on exploration/creativity and what not. Dunno if there's been a thread or blog post here that I've missed.

    p.s. I feel like the most "do this or else" writing advice out there comes from Hollywood. But then, the people giving it are pretty clear about the aim of the advice - write screenplays that will sell in Hollywood, nothing less and nothing more. For a narrow goal dependent on gaining the approval of a narrow group of people, maybe that sort of "do this or else" attitude makes sense. I feel however that some people read Save the Cat and take that "Must do" attitude to a far wider set of goals without stopping to think whether it makes sense.
     
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  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    It wasn't until I came to these forums that I began to dislike the term storytelling.

    It's in the way the word is used. Mana from heaven, inspiration of a personal daimōn, an entirely (or almost entirely) subjective process. I do believe that art accesses that. If everything could be...er, heh, plotted out according to a preexisting schematic, then we'd end up with mass produced copies that are very nearly identical, and what would be the purpose of art, then?

    I think something important is often overlooked when the term storytelling is used in this way.

    First and foremost, the communal aspect of language, the way language is acquired and utilized, means that you already are following a schematic when you use it. The act of storytelling—telling the story to someone else rather than musing upon the story alone—requires following the schematic or at least being aware of the schematic. You can diverge, take unexpected routes, and be as quirky as you like, but I believe that each of these variations happens within the context of a preexisting schematic. For example, for a theoretical fantasy world, I could have a magic system based on skematics. The fact that I've used a non-standard spelling for that word plays on the preexisting knowledge of the standard spelling. Even someone who doesn't consciously ponder this—she uses skemmatics in a YouTube comment somewhere—is still following or attempting to follow a preexisting schema when approximating the sound and the meaning.

    The telling of stories is similar. Not only the base language is utilized, but familiar structures are used as well—even if, subconsciously.

    Sometimes I like to think of complete sentences as stories although a single, standalone sentence is probably an incomplete story, heh. Sometimes I like to think of....is telling a story about myself. There's more behind that statement, a character and setting that aren't quite fleshed out yet in the single sentence; but those are present in the telling.

    I don't think it'll be worth my while to draw the line from the schematics of spelling, sound and word-meaning through the schematics of sentence structure and sentence-meaning to arrive at schematics of story structure—heh—so I'll jump to the point. Just like the YouTube commenter, all of us have picked up an innate understanding of common story structures beginning with the moments when as babes we were first able to string words together to communicate to our parents and siblings. "How was your day at school?" prompts a story. "How did this get broken?!" Reading books, watching television and movies, telling stories to our family members, friends, and teachers, have shaped our innate sense of storytelling. The YouTube commenter may not realize she's following a preexisting skemattic (!) but is following one regardless. Similarly, the storyteller is already painting by numbers.

    But. There are a lot of numbers and colors, heh.

    So I like coming to forums like this and reading how-to books and articles because I want to discover all the numbers and colors.
     
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  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    When you use strong words like "hate" and say that you get annoyed with things other people think have value, you should expect people to disagree. Surely you are not surprised that some people vehemently disagree with you. You have already conceded that many of your ideas are far from the norm, I cannot imagine that you are surprised by the disagreement.

    I understand this is a site to discuss and consider issues around writing, not a site for people who simply wish to agree with you. I would not frequent such a site.
     
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  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I will try to avoid political examples. My understanding is that all of the evidence we have indicates that storytelling cultures and traditions had and have rules or conventions they were expected to follows. Coming to a conclusion based on all of the available evidence is not the same as pulling an opinion out of the air and being annoyed at people who disagree with it. With logic like yours, one can never reach a conclusion and would live in a nihilistic self centred relativist world. Your argument is like saying gravity doesn't really accelerate things at a certain rate because we have not measured the rate of fall of all objects ever dropped on earth.

    Now if we like reason and evidence, tell me what evidence there is for non-literate cultures that didn't have rules of story telling. Your best argument is "Well there might of been such a culture but we haven't found it yet." That makes it a myth or if it fulfills a need, more of a fantasy.

    IT would not be just my opinion, it would be the conclusion drawn by people who study the field and have reviewed the evidence.

    I quiet enjoy this discussions and always get a good chuckle out of them. In particular I enjoy with interactions with you ME, but while we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts and evidence.
     
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