I’m not sure when I first heard the expression, “Opinions are like…er…belly buttons–everyone has one” but it’s always stuck with me and really resonates when I’m thinking about writing advice. There are as many styles and ways of writing as there are writers, and I don’t think anyone falls into the exact same mold.
Most advice is very subjective and should be tailored to your writer’s palate, because everyone’s is different. AND I think a lot of newer writers (and some seasoned ones) get caught up in collecting advice and rules, so much so, that their own voice (not to mention their time for writing) gets smothered.
For example, some people say you need to write every day. That may be true for some people, but not for me. I have a day job and other commitments, so I don’t feel I have the time, or brain space, to write every day, even when I’m actively working on a project. Sometimes, between projects, I don’t write for months, which used to scare me, but now I just take it in stride. I will pick it up again when I’m ready or need to get something done. I will not lose my ability to write—it always comes back. I need to trust myself and I think that goes for a lot of writing rules and advice: trust yourself and your gut. YOU know what’s best for you.
But there are a few pieces of writing advice that I think are worth heeding.
I had a very wise teacher in high school who was not only an English and creative writing teacher, but he was a published author as well, which meant that, in my eyes, a little sunbeam from heaven shone down on him. Yes, that’s right, he was my kind of rock star. You could even find his books in our school library!**
Anyway, he taught grade ten (or for you Americans: tenth grade) creative writing, which, of course, I took and loved. There was a certain amount of latitude in the classroom—I believe I sat on the windowsill for some classes and others we were allowed to go sit on the front lawn of the school, so our muses could be fed by cigarettes and Big Gulps from the Seven-Eleven next door. But being that it was a high school credit class, there needed to be an final exam; a rule mandated by our slightly short-sighted school board.
So, we had a creative writing exam. And there was one question (and only one question!) on it. And it was this:
What is the number one rule of writing?
And the answer, which everyone in the class got right, was: Show, don’t tell.
Because that was the one really important thing that my teacher thought we needed to know about creative writing. At least, it was all that he felt we needed to be tested on; we learned plenty of other things in our classes where we wrote, or improvised scenes or even queried magazines for our short stories, but that one rule is the thing that stuck with me. And it’s the rule I use every time I sit down to write or edit.
But the rest? Well I trust myself and my own gut, and so far, it’s worked out pretty well.
What about you – what writing advice have you gotten? Good/bad/ignore-worthy?
**I’m suddenly aware that this might not have been a coincidence.
p.s. Mr. Kropp, if you stumble on this post, thanks to a Google alert or some other internet alerting device, feel free to drop me a line. Your class was awesome and was definitely a highlight of my less-than-stellar high school career, and although it was a long road to get published, I credit you and your class for paving the first steps.