Thursday, February 14, 2008

Writing Advice

Writing is tough. Maybe you want to get a pen and right that down. And although the creative process involves one set of hands on the keyboard, I don't think anyone produces a worthwhile literary effort without significant input from others along the way.

I'm not a member of a critique group. It's a personal choice, and I know that you can find writers who come down--hard--on both sides of the issue. I'm not going to discuss my reasons here, nor do I criticize those who find such groups helpful. But the input received in such a situation makes up one category of "advice" for writers.

I've had various novels (I've written four) critiqued by three independent editors and four published authors. There's no question that each of them pointed out flaws that needed correcting and made suggestions that improved the writing. But I also noted a real danger that in taking their advice totally to heart I'd lose that intangible something called "author's voice."

True, there are "rules" that are there for a reason. Avoid passive voice. Show, don't tell (although sometimes you just have to tell--but do it well). Motivation precedes reaction. Keep point of view consistent. All these add to the readability of a manuscript. But don't be such a slave to rules that your writing becomes stilted and predictable.

The thing I believe a writer must keep in mind when considering advice--whether from a crit group, an author, an editor, or a first reader--is that writing is subjective. If taking recommendations to heart makes your prose wooden, your writing formulaic, then it's probably best to "screw your courage to the sticking point" and stick to your guns. I wonder if anyone ever told Shakespeare, "Bill, wouldn't it be simpler just to say 'Be courageous' instead of all that other stuff?"

Remember, that in the end, results are what counts. Or, in the words of a famous advisor from my part of the world, "How's that working out for you?"

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said.

I remember way back when you featured a little sample of your writing and then gave the editor's suggested version. I preferred your original. What does that say about you or me? Nothing really exceptive that our subjectivity might be more alike. Does that help? No. Other than to say I think you did a good job . . . for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

"exceptive"?? Sorry about that. Interesting word, huh? Now you probably think my opinion is even more worthless. :)

Anne Mateer said...

Ah, yes, the subjective nature of the business. It has definitely sharpened my faith in the sense that I must press in and seek the Lord for the ultimate sense of what should be changed and what should be kept. Writing IS a hard thing. But it helps me, at least, to grow.

Crystal Laine said...

This is why I always call myself the Reading Ninja--I get in silently, kill the bad adverbs, leave the house standing, and silently leave. No one even knew I was there!

It's so true that you have to guard your voice.

You think writing is hard? You should read things that I do. Reading is hard, too.

Crystal Laine said...

Oh, one more thing--if you stick to your guns, make sure you have bullets.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

This is why I always call myself the Reading Ninja--I get in silently, kill the bad adverbs, leave the house standing, and silently leave. No one even knew I was there!

It's so true that you have to guard your voice.

You think writing is hard? You should read things that I do. Reading is hard, too.

Nicole said...

Well said.

I remember way back when you featured a little sample of your writing and then gave the editor's suggested version. I preferred your original. What does that say about you or me? Nothing really exceptive that our subjectivity might be more alike. Does that help? No. Other than to say I think you did a good job . . . for what it's worth.