A few weeks ago (I'm behind on the times! I blame the revisions cave), author Colson Whitehead wrote a hilarious article over at a little magazine called The New York Times on the subject of writing advice. If you haven't already read it, you should do that now.
So Colson's advice is obviously sarcastic. But as I read (and laughed!) at this article, I got to thinking about some of the bad writing advice I've been the recipient of in the past, which sadly wasn't sarcastic:
-This sounds too conversational. Avoid narrating like how a teenager actually speaks and save that for the dialogue (This in reference to The Witch Hunter's Bible).
-Agents don't like first person present tense. It's the mark of an amateur (Also in reference to The Witch Hunter's Bible).
-Readers don't like scene-jumping. They find it jarring. Try to think of something interesting to say about everything the character does throughout the day. (This was advice Ruth Lauren Steven once got because she hadn't described the character's shower or something else really boring. Seriously.)
Okay, so these are some prettty extreme, stand-out examples. I've received plenty more advice through the years that was only moderately dubious, along with way more that was fantastic and completely invaluable. I suspect, though, that for some newer authors it might be pretty hard to distinguish the good advice from the bad.
So now we've come to the portion of the evening where I share my thoughts on writing advice.
Writers are like parents, in that anyone with a lick of experience thinks they're an expert (Okay, so maybe that's a gross generality, but whatever. It's my blog :D). Someone will always be there ready to tell you what you're doing wrong and how you can do it better. Perfect strangers feel compelled to offer you advice. Often times this advice is conflicting with what others have already told you. Sometimes this advice is good, and sometimes a mom tells you to wake your seven-month-old baby up at least twice in the night until they're a year old or else they'll become dehydrated and fail to thrive.
So where am I going with this, you ask? Should you ignore all the advice and just flounder about until you maybe or maybe not get it right? (whatever that is).
No, definitely not. Like with a new, inexperienced parent, advice can be very helpful and welcome at a time when it seems there's just so much to learn and everything is very daunting. It's simply a matter of taking it all in and, as you learn and grow, choosing what works best for you. No one knows your baby (book or otherwise!) better than you do.
Aside from that, be cautious of 'You must do this or else' types of advice. Writing isn't black and white; anything can be done if executed well, and what works for one person might not work for another. Good writing advice takes gray areas into consideration.
And lastly, if you're the recipient of bad writing advice through a critique, please remember that that person still took their precious time to read your work and give you their thoughts. That alone is worth a big thank you.
(Fun fact: my son's hydration status is just great, thanks for asking :) )