A painting of a woman confessing to a priest

Why Most of the Writing Advice I Read Is The Same

Confessions

First confession: I don’t know what I’m doing. Anyone who knows me isn’t surprised by this. Second confession: I read, listen to, and otherwise (taste?) consume writing advice. I haven’t published a thing aside from this blog, so it’s not surprising that I’m relatively early on in my journey. For some this journey is shorter and longer than others. For me, it’s been several years. That’s long enough to come across a lot of resources for writers. Third confession: I find that much of it is the same.

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Pourquoi?

I just admitted to being a relative n00b, but I’ve lived a while and read a lot. That means I have a lot of experience as a reader. I notice when I’ve read the same information more than once. Usually. I’m starting to get older. Anyway, I can only read so many versions of “show, don’t tell” and “follow the three act structure” before it becomes cliché. But, why would this advice be repeated so much?

I have a few theories…

Bullshit Theories

If you’re still reading, thank you. If you take anything I say seriously, I pity you, but thank you just the same. That’s my attempt at a disclaimer. I’m as transparent as sandstone.

1. Not Everyone Has Heard

There are thousands if not millions of people who decide every year to start writing something. Many of them will look for advice. They will not all find the same resources. There isn’t one de facto standard for what makes good writing (no, not even On Writing). Certain resources will appeal to some and not others. But there are a few tips that are generalized enough to be applicable, if not overly helpful. Some writers build entire careers on fleshing out these little nuances with books on writing. Some of them might even be helpful.

2. What Would You Answer If You Were Asked the Same Question?

Writers seem to get asked a lot of the same questions frequently, and they’re often by people who aren’t professionals in the publishing industry or always ask the same questions but expect different answers. If you’re on the spot, or are tired and can’t think of anything, you’re likely to parrot back something you’ve heard before that you know isn’t wrong. It may not be very helpful, but you know it won’t be wrong. I’m sure I’ve given a lot of this sort of unhelpful advice to my children and coworkers in the past. I’m sure I will again.

3. Nobody Really Knows How the Magic Works

Or, perhaps to put it more accurately, nobody really knows how to make the magic work for somebody else. What Stephen King did or does will not work for anyone today who isn’t Stephen King. Everyone’s situation is at least a little bit different, and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are a little bit different. Luck is a huge factor in whether you even can make a living at it, let alone to reach the kind of meteoric success of the name brands who run their own imprints.

Well, That Is Kind of Depressing

I know, right? I’m kind of an asshole, aren’t I? There’s some good news though: it doesn’t matter. None of that matters. If you write because you want to make money or become famous, there are much easier, surer ways to get there. Few writers describe the process as being “fun,” at least not all aspects of the process. It is a process, which is something people can forget. Whether what you churn out at the end sells or not is out of your hands. All you control is what you write, when you write, and how much you write.

Didn’t You Just Repeat Some of the Writing Advice You’ve Read?

Yep. I sure did. I have a few more theories though…

4. It’s “Content”

There’s pressure to write and produce “content,” so I find a lot of people are trying to write something, anything in order to fulfill their writing quota, obligation, what-have-you. To be honest, I’m no different. The content and quality of what I write isn’t that important for this blog. It’s not even about the quantity. It’s the sitting down and writing that’s the thing.

5. Sometimes, We Need To Remind Ourselves What We Already Know To Be True

Writing a post like this forces me to think a little deeper than I would about this otherwise. Perhaps if I were friends with more writers, it would come up. But who has friends anymore? I know some people that might respond if I send them messages online. I hardly see anyone outside of my family and coworkers on a regular basis. Our world has changed, and we’re all screaming into the void.

Christ, that went a little dark. Anyway, my point is that in times past, people might speak either face-to-face or correspond through letters. No one does that anymore, so we need some other means of thinking through some of these things. Why not a blog post?

Quote of the Week

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.

Stephen Hawking

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