I’m tired of reading bad writing advice.
I’ve always hated it. It’s one of the reasons I started Novelty Revisions. Even though I wouldn’t have called myself anything close to an expert at that point, I wanted to fill as much of the web with good advice as I could.
You can’t stop people from giving bad advice. But you can contribute enough good advice that people start ignoring the unhelpful, generalized, and, in some cases, wrong.
When I’m thinking of ideas for blog posts, there are a few things I always try to stay away from — even if the ideas do come to mind.
- I never want to rant about something unless I have a solution to offer — either practical or theoretical.
- I won’t ever call someone out for being terrible, unless I’m giving my readers an example of what not to do (or what to do instead/how to respond positively to something).
- I will never give generic, all-size-fits-all advice, unless I provide alternatives by circumstance.
- On this blog, you will NEVER find anything that says, “I do something this way, this is the right and only way, and if you do not do as I do, you are wrong and you’re going to fail.”
It might seem like I’m exaggerating a little with this last point. Unfortunately, I’m not. There are writers and other creatives out there who, for whatever reason, seem to think their way is the one and only way to do something.
I’m not sure I have the capacity to fully understand why this happens, but it does.
It’s the generic, “there’s only one way” mentality that turned me off to the majority of writing advice I kept seeing from other writers online. Things like:
You have to write every day, or you aren’t a real writer.
You must have a complete outline done before you can start writing a book.
If you want to be successful, you have to have a blog/Twitter/newsletter.
Self-publishing doesn’t count — you aren’t really a published author until you have an agent.
No. Just … no.
Telling someone “you have to do this one specific thing” is not advice. To advise means to give suggestions specific to a person’s circumstances.
And even though this is a really hard thing to do on the internet for hundreds or thousands of people at once, someone giving writing advice needs to understand that they are talking to hundreds or thousands of different, individual people.
They are not talking to themselves, or their friends, or only people just like them.
Something I learned far too late in the blogging game is that I am not like most people. Most people do not think or create or structure their schedules the way I do.
Even though I’ve never outright criticized anyone for doing things differently than me, I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog giving advice most people couldn’t relate to. And I feel really bad about that.
Good writing advice acknowledges that everyone does things differently. They’re at different places in their lives. They have different barriers to productivity and creation. They have different preferences, different likes and dislikes. They are not you. And talking to them like they are is like talking into a mirror. Your audience isn’t going to stick around.
There’s writing about your experiences (a good thing). And then there’s using your experiences to tell people what they have to do (not a good thing — it happens in the health space all the time).
People don’t have to follow your advice. You can offer it to them. But don’t get upset when people tell you your advice doesn’t apply to them (they will).
You certainly can’t cater to everyone’s preferences and needs in every post. But you’ve probably noticed that I try to give as many alternatives to my suggestions as I can. I’m still working on doing a better job of it, but I’m improving. Because I think it’s important. And authority figures in this space just aren’t doing it enough.
Let’s all work together here. Suggest, don’t assume. Try to look at different situations from angles other than your own. And most importantly, listen. Some people will tell you how you can help them, even if they don’t tell you directly. If you’re giving advice that’s too one-sided, you’ll likely hear about it.
And if you’re reading someone’s advice and it’s not helpful to you, also keep in mind that just because something doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean someone’s opinion is wrong. Be kind. Don’t leave sarcastic comments on their posts that serve no purpose whatsoever. Add value to a discussion by sharing your own experiences, even if they’re different than someone else’s.
Good writing advice is out there. The more you see it, the more you can appreciate and share it.
(That wasn’t me asking you to share this. I mean, you can. I was just … sigh.)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.