Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Accepting or Rejecting Writer Advice

You see it every day, all over Facebook, Pinterest boards, Twitter, and every other electronic forum/social media site: quotes by famous authors on writing. Memes. Funny e-cards. All with an overwhelming amount of advice for the hoards of us struggling through, and a lucky few breezing through, our novels. Every time I read one of these, I think it's a great quote with merit. So what happens when these famous authors begin to contradict one another? Do you choose to follow the advice of the one you admire more? The, "I want to be like him so I'll follow his advice" attitude. If that worked, we'd have many more Hemingways and Twains than we do.

With as many writers as we've had, and even more now, it's inevitable that all the advice won't be in perfect agreement. Writers love giving advice. Nowhere can you find a people more fascinated by our profession than writers. Why? Because it's a mystery. The well-known comparison of novel and baby works here, too. There's nothing a pregnant woman loves talking about more than pregnancy. Why? Because that baby growing inside is like some kind of miracle, some wonderful mystery. So, too, is the novel taking place in the writer's head. The only solution is to seek to explain it somehow, make sense of something that makes very little sense even to those doing it.

As with love, as with motherhood, there is no perfect way to write a novel. There are pantsers and planners. There are those who say, with regards to writing as well as love, "If it's worth working for, you must work for it!" and those who say, "If it don't come easy, you better let it go." To this, I will throw in my own two cents. If it's coming easy, that's a wonderful thing. You are blessed. Don't stop writing for anything. Because one day, it may stop coming so easy. And when it does, you will have to, as Hemingway famously said, "Sit down at the typewriter, and bleed."

I speak from experience here. On several occasions I churned out 50 pages in one day, leaving my brain feeling like a cooked potato. Now, I'm lucky if I can pry 5 pages from my miserly muse. I couldn't tell you what changed for all the money in Mr. Gates's bank account. One day it was easy, and the next thing I knew, it wasn't. I thought this was a phase I would let pass, so I stopped writing fiction for two years. I kept a journal, went back to dabbling in poetry, came up with an idea or two and followed them for the ten or so pages until they turned to ether and vanished. And then, I got tired of waiting for the muse, and I sat down at my computer, and bled.

Yes, it is frustrating. Sometimes my characters refuse to tell me what's going on, so I make something up, and later, they tell me I was wrong, and I have to go back and change their family, their back story, even their names. But there is something on the page. And that's better than nothing. Maybe one day, my Prinspiration will come, scoop me up on the inspiration pony and ride away with me. Until then, I'll struggle to pull my ox out of the mud.

My best advice for writers is this: Don't stop writing. When it's easy, go with it. When it's hard, dig for it. When you finish it and it's amazingly magically perfect, set it aside and come back to it later (if it's a first draft, it's not perfect, I promise). When it's ugly, edit it and rewrite it until it's passable. Then, when you have finished one novel, whatever your process, whatever your product, pick up your proverbial pen and start all over again.

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