10 Jan 2012

Too Much Good Advice?

Greetings, Storyslingers readers. I've been doing a bit of market research lately and it's made me ponder writing advice, how much of it exists out there, and when enough is just plain enough.

OK, so writing often being a lonely business is a given, since the author is the only person who can write the story that only they can tell. Sure, you may have friends and readers or even co-writers around you during the process, but ultimately your ideas start inside your head, and there they percolate and unfold all alone and uncertain before you get down to the nitty-gritty of drawing them out. When you're feeling a little lost and alone, it's tempting to dive headlong into the murky depths of writing and publishing blogs, if only for reassurance that you're not the only one feeling that way.

And that's good!

But doggy paddling through those unfathomable waters can quickly become overwhelming if you try to take it all in, because a lot of the advice out there for writers is full of disagreements and contradictions, and you will get bogged down. Pretty much all advice for writers is subjective, and what works for one writer might not work for the next.

In earlier days I'd find myself frantically saving links, blog-hopping and forum-stalking to find The Ultimate Writing Formula. But a lot of what I found was basically the same things being said over and over, just in different ways (so they seemed shiny and magical and helpful at the time). Isn't it hard enough wrestling stories and novels and plays and poems and articles without also worrying that you're not abiding by the gazillion 'How To' articles floating around out there? You can't follow all of them. But you can pick a few good ones—blogs and articles that resonate with you, that seem to apply to your style or method of writing or the particular piece you're working on right now. You'll get to know writers and agents and publishers you like, and you'll find yourself gravitating to their blogs more often than others.

You generally only need one or two staples. It's like a balanced diet. These are the clear, concise posts that you can refer to time and time again. Posts where the advice is broad enough so as not to restrict you or become too outdated over time, and not bog you down with too many hoops and details. Everyone's journey will be different—no two query letters will be the same, just as no two agent searches will be identical. Keep in mind the most important elements, as a lot of the rest is common sense.

Here are a couple of articles highlighting what I mean about condensing the avalanche of advice. I'm picking them because they're reasonably brief and not heavy with nit-picky details that may not even be relevant to you:

The Basic Query Letter Formula – from ex-literary agent and now published author Nathan Bransford. He breaks down the raw elements; you shouldn't be able to go too wrong following these.

Formatting Your Manuscript – also from Nathan Bransford.

Saying that, of course there are times when authors just want a quick brain-hug, and that's OK. As long as you don't get those times muddled up with the times when you need to think clearly and concisely, you should be fine.

(And if in serious doubt and various states of distraction, there's always the option to unplug your Internet. Yeah, I have to do that a lot.)

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