Everything Wrong with Modern Writing Advice

This is not an easy thing to do. We keep doing it anyway.

This morning I woke up, as one tends to do. I dragged myself out of bed and down to The Room Where Coffee Happens, and as I filled my mug I thought about everything I had to do today. Per usual lately, today’s blog post surfaced as my biggest worry. What am I going to write about this time?

This daily worry is not a self-inflicted curse. In fact, it is what prompts me to sit down and write to you every morning. But lately I’ve been struggling with deciding what kinds of topics to cover here. I very rarely come up empty when it comes to ideas for blog posts – I have this stubborn brain that never shuts up (you might know a thing or two about what that’s like).

It’s not that I don’t have ideas. It’s that, sometimes, I doubt my own ability to choose the right ones.

Giving writing advice is easy. Giving good writing advice is not. That’s because everyone seems to think they know what’s best. So virtually every writer writes about writing – to prove their expertise? Because they enjoy it? I don’t know. Coming up with advice no one has ever heard before is draining. Not writing about the exact same thing twice in six months is exhausting.

But I do it. Because I care. Because I want you to believe you have the power to earn yourself a successful career in writing. I really do.

What frustrates me the most about doing what I do every day is that my audience is small. This is not at all a cry for followers – it’s not up to me whether you click a button or not. The problem with a small audience is that I want to know what you want to know. But getting the level of response necessary to create a better content strategy, with a small audience, is pretty much impossible.

I may not be able to satisfy every curious creative that stumbles upon this blog. But I do know, from experience, what not to do – and all the shortcomings that plague modern writing advice on the internet. So because I’m in a rut, and I have no idea what to do, I’m going to talk about what we all need to stop doing. Sound fair? Let’s try it.

This is everything wrong with modern writing advice. And yes, of course I’m also guilty of some of these things. I’m only human. That’s why I’m addressing them now.

It struggles to individualize

Every time I give a piece of writing advice, I have to include some kind of tag at the beginning or end of it: ‘this is what has worked for me,’ or, ‘Maybe this will work for you; maybe it won’t.’ Because I once made the mistake of giving a generalized piece of writing advice on a different site for writers, and the faceless, far too easily offended commenters yelled at me. I’m a big girl, comment hate doesn’t faze me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty when I unintentionally assume something is the case for every person and forget to address otherwise.

A blog can’t give individual writing advice – unless posts are in a question-answer format, but again – small audience. Questions frequently go unanswered, so I gave up on that a long time ago (people just ask Google everything now … not bitter or anything). So everything has to be carefully suggested. Try this, it might work. Some people find this helpful. It’s the best we can do. I feel bad about it constantly – I’d love to coach you individually. I can’t. Which is why I’ve gradually gone back to a more traditional blogging format – using my personal experiences to help you make sense of yours. I don’t particularly enjoy talking about myself every day, but 85 percent of the time, it’s the most effective way to at least get you thinking.

It assumes everyone is at the same level

All writers start out as beginners, and all move through different stages of writing at different speeds and intervals. This means I have to write every post with the understanding that some people reading it won’t even have started writing their first thing yet – while someone with years of publishing behind them might also come across that same piece of content. It’s both challenging and intimidating. I’m sure within this niche there are bloggers who only write about what to do when you’ve finished writing a book. There are blogs about how to start writing, blogs about grammar, blogs about characterization. Blogs about blogging about blogging. This blog is none of those things.

It is, literally, about putting ideas into words. About getting writing done, about motivation, about organization, about Getting Stuff Done When You Don’t Wanna. So I write for writers. I assume writers come here looking for answers to all kinds of questions. It’s not that my audience is too broad – it’s that bloggers like me are challenged to know the needs of their audience at differing stages of a process. Pleasing everyone is literally impossible. Trying something new, you risk turning people off. Unfollow. You risk attracting people who are genuine and grateful and want to become part of the family. The moment writing advice stops being relevant to one person is also the moment many people might decide to leave and never come back again.

Trying to be inclusive in anything you do is harder than you think. I suppose it’s just part of the deal.

It often comes off as one-directional

I never realized until I started blogging 8 years ago how much of writing consists of talking at other people. I sit here and I tell you what I think. I do this for a living. I don’t count comments, I don’t judge my level of success or the worth of my work on how many comments each post gets. But I do notice when things get quiet. In the back of your mind, for a few seconds, you wonder what you’ve done wrong – when in reality, people only leave comments when they have something to say. And writing advice, let’s be honest, isn’t always a solid conversation starter.

Engaging people on blogs becomes more and more of a questionable effort every day. I know for a fact only a handful of you are still reading at this point. This is the reality of publishing things online – people stop reading. It doesn’t matter if they’re bored or annoyed or just don’t have the attention span to focus on what you’re saying – it just happens. So most of the time, I end up writing as if I am talking to you. And I know that to some degree, some of you are absorbing my messages. I simply can’t depend on discussion-driving posts to keep this blog alive. I have to have faith that using my voice to add more words to the void will at some point generate some kind of conversation.

As a writer writing about writing, you learn you can’t force other people to do anything you suggest. You send off your words of wisdom or hope or desperation into the world and you start to wonder why you keep doing this. Much of writing is believing you’re helping someone, though you’ll never know for sure whether you are or not.

As I hope you already know, I do the absolute best I can to use my words to help you grow and thrive as writers actively pursuing your creative passions. I strongly believe 2017 is the year this blog will shift from a casual jog into a full-power sprint. I always hit these awkward points of questioning and struggle before we make a mad dash toward a new milestone. It always gets harder before it gets easier.

That being said, if there is anything you ever want me to discuss here, you are always welcome to address it in a comment. Unless you’re  a spammer (please stop), I publish every comment left here. This blog is not about me. It’s about you, about us. For now, these posts are all I have for you. I do my best every day to provide the best content I can for you. Know it’s because I genuinely want to do good things here. I hope that’s enough.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-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.

4 thoughts on “Everything Wrong with Modern Writing Advice

  1. Thanks for the blog Meg. I’ve been around a year this month and am already questioning and second guessing what I should be writing. I focus primarily on my journey as I work towards getting my first novel published. Most of my posts are based on mistakes I’ve made along the way and my hopes that I can help someone else not make the same mistake. I occasionally throw out information that I have found useful from other thoughts, magazines or books :-)

  2. Late comment here, but… “I know for a fact only a handful of you are still reading at this point.” This made me laugh! I was one that read it! Thanks for the writing advice and humor.

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