How do you know if the writing advice you’re being given is worth listening to?
Does it matter if someone is a published author or not?
Who is “qualified” to give the best advice?
These are all tricky questions. So here are some of the types of advice you’ll generally get about writing, who they tend to come from, and how to apply them (if at all) to your own writing life.
From a well-meaning acquaintance
“I never, ever do it that way. I always do it like this, and it’s definitely going to help you too.”
Unfortunately, there are a lot of (I suppose) well-meaning people out there who don’t know how to think outside their own mindset. They see the world only from their perspective. So even though they might want to genuinely help someone by offering advice, it’s usually very one-sided and closed-minded. But you should never walk away from those conversations believing that their way is the only way. It doesn’t hurt to try their suggestions, but they might not always work for you, and that’s OK. It’s not bad advice — but every writer is different, and not all advice applies to everyone.
From people who write about writing, but haven’t published any professional work
“Here’s advice from my personal experience, don’t worry, I get what you’re going through!”
Because I haven’t “officially” published a book, I know many people who stumble upon my blog have a hard time trusting what I have to say about writing. They don’t realize, or don’t bother to read, that I’m a professional writer, and publish work almost daily, despite not being a published fiction author. But do be wary of writers who talk a lot about writing but don’t actually have much to show for it. Their advice may be well-meaning, but if they lack field experience, they might also fall prey to the issue above.
From accomplished writers along your chosen career path
“Here’s what I have learned along my journey, take from it what you will.”
You’ll find the best, and most applicable, writing advice from these individuals. Let’s say, for example, you dream of –and are doing your best to work toward — a career in print journalism. You’ll want to seek out career and writing advice from people who work in that field, who were once where you are now — an aspiring journalist trying to find your beat and add your voice to the conversation. Someone who publishes novels for a living may have great writing advice, but it won’t always apply to you specifically. That’s also OK.
From ultra-successful writers (e.g., Stephen King)
“Here’s my advice on how to become one of the most successful writers of all time.”
You do have to be cautious of this advice, at least on a personal level. Stephen King has his own way of doing things, and yes, some of his advice very well may change your life. But don’t get too hung up on copying his every move or clinging to every word. You have to learn to take bits and pieces of his suggestions and fit them into your style and schedule. Remember, not all advice applies to everyone the same way. It’s OK if some of his suggestions just aren’t your thing.
From people who have read a dozen books written by other people about writing
“Mer Lafferty said in her book that if you do this …”
The best thing to do in this situation is to read the book! Secondhand advice doesn’t allow you to draw your own conclusions about what a successful writer is suggesting you try. What one person interprets from a book, as you likely already know, might not even come close to what someone else might get out of it. Don’t take their word for it. Check it out for yourself.
And always remember: advice is not law. You don’t have to do something just because one writer says they did it. It’s up to you to use any advice to your advantage as you choose. As long as you’re doing what’s best for you, and aren’t hurting or discouraging anyone else in the process.
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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.