Saturday, August 7, 2021

How Do I Pick the Right Writing Advice?


by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Where do you go when you want writing advice? No, your mama won’t work.

Whether it’s for advice on the craft of writing, the business side of getting published, or just finding out where to begin, do you know who to listen to?

Finding advice for writers isn’t like searching the desert for a drop of water or checking my couch for a ten-dollar gold piece. It’s more like seeking water and having the Hoover Dam explode next you. It seems to be everywhere you turn.

With dozens of Facebook groups, hundreds of blogs, and thousands of books all to give advice to writers, our problem isn’t an inability to find answers to our questions, it’s knowing which of the eight answers we find we should listen to. Even on this blog, you are going to read posts from different writers and, although they will give opposing advice, all of them may be correct.

Case in point, do you end a sentence with a preposition? Yes, no, it depends (usually my favorite answer), never, maybe. It’s enough to make you want to hit delete or throw your device across the coffee shop.

In this article, I’m not really going to look at where to go to look for answers. But I want us to look at how to decide which answers will work for you.

How to Find the Writing Advice That’s Right for You
  • 1. Advice is never universal.
We need to recognize that when we are looking for answers, one size doesn’t fit all. Just like looking for clothes at the store, you probably need to try it on first.

One of the great things about the writing field is that we have so many options of what we can do. Poetry, devotions, articles, plays, podcasts, screenplays, video games, memoirs, fiction (and all its many genres), blogs, mini blogs, reverse blogs, sagas, multi-volume series, flash fiction, haikus. I think you get the idea.

Advice that may work for a novel probably won’t work in a piece of flash fiction.

And who is your audience: women fiction, YA, middle schoolers? Are you writing for Mature Living, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, or Scholastic?
  • 2. Tastes change over time.
Another part of this is that tastes change. Charles Dickens could go on for pages about the setting of a scene, but now we are told that readers have shorter attention spans and won’t tolerate such writing in their books.

Glad no one told that to J. K. Rowling.

When I was younger, Bible studies and articles were about how Christians shouldn’t cuss, shouldn’t smoke, boy cut your hair and girl take off that makeup. What most readers think is important has changed since then. If we are talking about the gospel, it hasn’t changed. But how to make it relevant in today’s world may have.
  • 3. Our likes and experiences are different.
Everyone has different tastes, experiences, and strengths. And different God-giving gifts. He made us all unique. The path you watch someone else take, isn’t necessarily the one for you.

And isn’t it funny that we only look at the people who we think has it easier than us. We overlook the person who had ninety-five rejections. But the person who got published in our target magazine the first time the submitted, after we submitted to it for three years with no success, that’s the ‘friend’ we compare our journey to.

That the subject of their article was a tragedy their family experienced, we seem to miss.
  • 4. Does it help your reader understand?
If there is one piece of advice that I think can help us decide what advice to follow, it is does it make our writing clearer, easier to understand. Unless you’re putting a red herring in a mystery, and you don’t want to make it too obvious for your reader. So, my point number one still holds.

We usually write because we want to make a point. It’s amazing how clear something can be in our mind, but when we try to get it down on paper or on a screen, it turns to gibberish. That’s where the craft comes in. That’s when we need to find the right advice to make our writing clear to our audience.

Our job is to put down the words and then weed out the words we don’t need. It’s so easy it’ll make you pull your hair out. And we are fortunate that there is so much out there to help us.

But choose wisely. Salt, sugar, and baking soda all look alike, but they each have their own very distinct purposes. 

TWEETABLE

Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers’ conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at timingreenville.com.

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