Do you actively seek out writing advice on the internet?
If you haven’t before, welcome to the insanity. Because by clicking on this post, you’re diving into the confusing, overwhelming world that is trying to figure out what being a writer means when everyone has the power to publish whatever they want online.
There’s so much writing advice out there that it can be hard to figure out what’s good and what isn’t. But probably the biggest challenge aspiring writers face, when reading through all this advice, is figuring out how to take that advice off the page and actually use it in the real world.
There are several reasons for this. In particular, it’s hard for new writers to push through struggles because they expect all the advice they hear to work. Which it pretty much never will.
Remember that writing advice is based on personal experience
There’s one major flaw generally associated with giving writing advice: everyone’s experiences are different. On top of that, what aspiring writers want is a series of quick fixes and easy gateways to success that are guaranteed to work … which don’t actually, if you haven’t figured this out already, exist. When writers give advice, they will often premise it with, “This is what I did to get published/find an agent/finish my novel/start a blog.” Many don’t, which only complicates things.
Writing advice is not universal. Understanding that is the first step you need to take in order to be able to apply it to your own life. What works for one writer might not work for you, not in the same way or not at all. You can’t get mad at someone for giving you advice if it isn’t based on scientific evidence, which writing advice is not. The key is to take the advice you hear, mix it in with your own personal experience, and create a strategy that actually works for you personally. My way is not the “right” or “only” way to do it. I know what I know because of my experiences as a writer. I don’t know your experiences. I can’t give advice to every individual reader. Keep that in mind. You can specify general writing advice on your own, or tweak it to fit into your own habits and/or schedule.
Don’t try to do 10 new things at once
When you are first introduced to new writing advice, it’s almost instinctive to want to go away and figure out how to apply all of it to your own writing life. This often happens because, as I mentioned above and have written about before, giving writing advice is a tough balance between being specific and keeping suggestions as broad as possible. When a writer gives advice, they have to give a variety of suggestions that anyone reading might be able to use. That means there might be anywhere from three to five different techniques summarized in a single post or article.
Does that mean you have to use them all? Of course not. In fact, don’t. Using the writing advice you receive is pretty much like forming a new habit: it takes awhile to figure out how to make it work. And trying to adapt to a dozen new habits at once does not work. It’s the same with writing advice. Try to make one small change at a time. If a writer suggests changing up the place you write, don’t also try to write in a new word processing program and listen to instrumental music and write in intervals. That’s too many new writing habits at once. Try one thing at a time. You have to test out whether or not someone’s suggestions actually work for you. And if they do, it still takes a few weeks to fully adjust. Take it slow. Writing is a slow process. There is no rush.
If something doesn’t work, don’t keep trying to make it work
Improving yourself as a writer is all about trial and error. Trust me, I’m aware you don’t want to hear that. But you have to take a little responsibility here. This is a partnership. I, or another blogger or professional writer or whoever you’re trying to get good advice from, have the experience and the tools that can help you. But I cannot do the work for you. It’s up to you to try things for yourself, on your own time. If something works, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do. That particular strategy just does not work for you, and that’s OK.
But if a suggested strategy doesn’t work for you, don’t keep trying to make it work. If I suggest writing at least 1000 words six days a week, and taking the seventh day off, but you work weekends and can only write Monday through Thursday, don’t try to write six days a week. It’s OK to try it – but if you can’t do it, don’t force it to work when it isn’t meant to work. Tweak the strategy. Write 2000 words Monday through Thursday, if you want. Or don’t. You have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and the only way to do that is to finish reading a piece of advice, walk away and try to apply it as-is. But do take action. Don’t just read up on advice and then continue on doing things the way you always have. Change leads to growth. Growth, if you’re patient about it, leads to success.
Writing advice is everywhere. It’s easy to get into a bad habit of reading it, saying you’re going to use it, then never actually using it at all. Learn how to personalize the writing advice you find by keeping in mind that every writer’s experiences are different. Apply one piece of advice at a time to figure out whether or not you can make it work. And if something doesn’t work for you, it’s OK to move on to something else, and leave that advice behind.
For weekly writing inspiration, updates on how you can support The Novella Concept and more, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for a new wordy and awesome email in your inbox [almost] every Monday.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.