Beware of Know-It-Alls: Writing Advice and What It’s Worth

See full issue for 2017 05-22

I began Miller Time with a couple of goals. The most important to me was entertaining readers, while enlightening. After what feels like my eternity in the publishing industry (really only about ten years), I feel like no matter what wisdom I try to pass along, or the method in which I do so, there’s always that one guy out there, who is either a troll out to annoy me, or is someone who genuinely feels he must prove he knows more. That’s fine. I welcome different opinions, and if I’m wrong, then tell me. It’s all good.

To be honest, most of the time, I get comments that are gems of wisdom and I learn as much as those coming to read my articles. Occasionally, I get condescending comments that begin as what seems to be disagreement with something I said (which is totally cool), but end up basically repeating the ideas I’ve just written or comments that say a lot, while saying nothing. Not sure about the point of those comments, but hey, whatever makes you feel better. You keep on being you and we’ll keep on wondering.

What I tell you here, in this column, is based on my experience. Should you do everything I say? Hell no. I don’t even expect my kids to listen to me all the time (it’d sure be nice if they listened once in a while, though). Your work is not my work. Your experience is not my experience. However, what I say here isn’t said to make me look smarter than you or confuse what is fact and what is opinion. I keep these articles basic and generalized, because I’m trying to give you a nudge in the right direction, not tell you what to do. I’m here to make life easier, and that doesn’t mean I’m always right. I like to generate discussion and the exchange of ideas or experience. I don’t want you to think I think I know everything, because it’s very clear I don’t.

No one in this industry knows everything. For example, if you Google writing rules, publishing, etc., you’ll find a ton of advice is available. You’ll also find that much of it is the same shit with slightly different packaging. Why? Because it’s rare to find anything that’s ground breaking or “new" when it comes to writing/publishing advice.

So, take every piece of advice with a good dose of skepticism. Yes, even mine. We know stuff, we’ve done stuff, but we are not you and we are not writing your book. Good writing often boils down to instinct. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Publishing is the same. Instinct is hard, if not impossible to teach, and we can throw tip after tip at you, but if you don’t know how to listen to your gut, well, you’re going to struggle. Even those of us with good instincts are likely to fail. This industry isn’t for pussies. We all know that.

My point is anyone can regurgitate ideas, rules, and all that, and anyone can quote this famous author and that one, but that doesn’t prove said person knows any more than you do. It proves they’ve read stuff. Have they put it into action? How has it worked for them? Are they succeeding, failing, or have they even begun a career in fiction? If the person spouting the advice has no real experience in this industry, then I treat their advice as opinion. We all have opinions, right?

Research the authors of the how-to articles/books. Don’t take what they say as gospel unless they’ve got the proven experience behind their name to back up what they’re telling you to do.

For example:

Stephen King’s advice = good, solid advice from a writer with proven experience and skill.

Someone quoting Stephen King = advice from someone who read On Writing. Might be good, but you can find said advice all over the internet, or just go buy On Writing. (Do it. Fantastic resource.)

Just because someone can regurgitate information found in thousands of online articles and books doesn’t mean they know more than you. It means they’re good at regurgitating information. Just because I can quote source after source, author after author, doesn’t mean my advice is the advice you should follow. It doesn’t mean I know what I’m talking about at all.

Question everything. This industry is changing constantly. What makes a successful writer this week isn’t going to help anyone next week. No one has the magic answer, there is no shortcut, or we’d all know it by now. Trial and error are the best ways to figure shit out. Never being happy with just one answer is the best way to weed out the truth and to figure out what will work for you.

We often see long articles or comments with big words or massive chunks of text. Intimidating, right? We feel like, wow, look at all this information. This person must really know his shit. The reality: It’s just words, kids. Read it. Take it all apart. It’s not so impressive when you boil down the many, many words into simple ideas. Often, you’ll find these folks aren’t saying anything new once you take the fluff out of their long-winded ramblings. Big fancy words are effective in hiding the meat of what you’re reading, which is why we try to avoid that in fiction writing.

Take this article as an example. (For once, I rambled for a reason.) When you strip away my many words, and I’m aware I’ve rambled a lot, what I’m telling you is to use your instincts and trust them, instead of looking for answers from someone else.

The best writing comes from experience, and experience requires us to make mistakes. Learn from them. Instead of looking for the answers from someone else, dive in and find them on your own. Don’t follow others blindly, hoping to find the easy way, because there isn’t one. Sure, lots of people out there say they have the answers, but they have THEIR answers. A lot of them are full of shit too, so there’s that.

The only way to learn is to DO. So, think for yourself. Don’t waste your time on self-proclaimed experts who are only interested in making themselves look or feel important. Find mentors who have been there and done that and can prove it, and who are open to new ideas, because they know they don't have all of the answers.



Renee Miller

Visit Renee Miller‘s website.

Contact Us    Visit the original Underground
Quality reviews of independent literature from 2011 - 2018