Take Writing Advice With A Grain Of Salt by Nicole Basaraba

When I started writing my first novel in March 2011, I just went for it. I had no idea what I was doing all I knew was that I wanted to do it. I jumped in two feet first by creating the messiest word document you’ve ever seen. It was, and still is, full of dialogue, character descriptions, full scenes, parts of scenes, plotting notes for chapters, free writing about the possibilities for the plot, there is multi-colored highlighting and different colored fonts.

Then once upon a time I started writing. At that time I didn’t know anything about the structure of a novel, the major mistakes most beginners make, and I didn’t even have a full plot at the ready, I knew what journey the protagonist would take and that was it.

Then I started reading writer blogs. They were full of great tips and I soon discovered that I was making some of the key mistakes beginners make so I stopped writing and I started to dedicate more time to learning.

I have so far participated in two rounds of ROW80, this one being my third, and I’ve learned a lot in the last year.  I read more blogs on writing and books on the craft. I found out what writing techniques work best for me and I now have three quarters of my first draft written. In ROW80 Round 4 2011, I saw a lot of new writers join in and I was so happy to see others just starting out like I was.

Among the writing community there are lots of craft books writers highly recommend and lots of bloggers who are often referred to for writing advice. I try to get as wide of scope as I can, reading the recommended books, finding some books on my own and reading as many blogs as humanly possible in the 24 hours of a day. It is exhausting. But, yes there is a big BUT here, it’s important to remember to take writing advice with a grain of salt. It doesn’t matter if the advice is coming from a New York Times Best-Selling author. What works for one person might not work for another, even if that person has 20 published books under their belt. I think its especially true for new writers who don’t exactly know what their doing. The best thing I could have done was to just start writing, even if it was garbage, because at least I got my footing without trying to put on someone else’s shoes first.

There are so many different writing techniques and tips out there that one can easily feel like they are drowning in advice. I’ve seen other writers refer to specific bloggers as if they are latching onto their words like life support or those who swear by a certain craft book. I’ve found that some of the most popular craft books didn’t work for me personally. I didn’t beat myself up trying to make it work or change what I was doing or reading to fit in with what the cool kids were doing. No. I took a step back and thought about it. Why doesn’t this work for me? What is working for me? Can I modify someone else’s technique and make it my own? Are there other resources I can look at that could help? Does this advice apply to my genre or my goals for the story?

Every writer, like every person, is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all for writing techniques. So the only piece of advice I can give based on a near writing-advice drowning, is to step back and think about what you read and how it applies or doesn’t apply specifically to you. Take it or leave it, don’t feel forced to follow the pack because reading, learning and writing A LOT is the only way you will be able to find out your own writing process. This is probably why one of the more popular questions for authors is “what’s your writing process?” because each person has a different answer.

~*~

Nicole Basaraba

12 comments

  1. This is such an important post! Thank you for sharing it with us Nicole. I’ve also done a lot of reading of various different things and always most important is you writing. Cause nobody really cares about how much you know if you have no means of showcasing it. Your writing is the pearl you pluck from the oyster of collective consciousness about writing. Hope all of you are getting some writing done today.😀

  2. Instead of “What is your writing progress?”, I think people should ask “What is your writing chaos?” hehe. Good post Nicole.

  3. Thanks for this post, Nicole! I am a beginner working on my first draft, and it’s easy to get caught up in the pressures and fears about not doing things the “right” way. I try to remind myself that just sitting down and putting words to paper, even if it’s just making a “mess,” is half the battle.

    1. My first draft sure is messy. But along the way I’ve learned how I can clean it up later or things I can keep in mind while writing. The important thing, I think for beginners (like myself) is just to write something and finish it and then we can learn and practice so our work becomes better. Otherwise we might fall into the trap of never writing anything because we don’t know who’s advice to take or how to employ it.🙂

  4. Great post. I’m a newbie myself at this and one of the things I learned is to write everyday. I have 5 first rough drafts under my belt at this point. Decided to concentrate on one and finish it. Now I’m learning how to edit and reading all the craft books. Some work for me, others don’t. It’s great being able to follow and learn from authors on the web but like you said we are all unique and have individual voices. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. It’s been an educational experience to say the least.

  5. You hit the nail on the head, Nicole! There are a few writers from whom I get the impression that you must follow certain prescriptions so carefully that it will be impossible to get published or taken seriously if you don’t. I believe there is a lot to be learned, so I also read writing craft books and blogs. However, some advice conflicts, some is more useful than others, and some fits my personality and way of working while others don’t. You offer such wisdom here for us to keep learning but glean through the vast body of knowledge and pick out the gems that work.

  6. A great post. When I first joined ROW80, I felt like such a writing novice (even with a novel out there). Then I tried incorporating all the wonderful sounding advice, only to find out some of it did not work for me. No matter how much I try to plan and love the idea of structure/planning, it doesn’t always work for me.

    I think that’s why I enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing so much (although thanks to ROW80ers, I have several more craft books in the wings)… he basically said you have to write, but there’s no set recipe for what makes a good writer.

    Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your thoughts and energy.

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