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Don’t Be Impressionable: Ignoring Well-Intended Advice

Sometimes, as a writer, you have a lot of people saying they are in your corner but these people are often some of the most unhelpful people in the world. What do I mean by this? When someone tells you how to write, what to write or when to write you have to be careful that they don’t smother your creativity and your own personal flow. Advice can come from family members, friends, editors, agents and even critics after a piece has been published. In an article by Lenore Myka she stated, “When it comes to writing, I have a tendency to internalize all the wonderful advice I’m given, adopting it as the truth.” I caution against this. As wonderful as it may seem, not all advice is beneficial and some changes can hurt your authorial voice.

It is up to you whether you accept their comments as fact or as opinion, whether you change your voice or hold to your intuition. Not all advice is good advice, so when it comes down to it don’t be impressionable.

Sometimes, those offering advice aren’t the right audience.

If you write a long-form poem about nature, don’t expect an novelist whose main themes are war and espionage to give you the best advice. I wish I could say that you should only seek advice from your target audience but that is a bit unrealistic as you can’t decide who reads a piece after publication. But while you are drafting, I would suggest only allowing those you trust, who have given valuable advice before to read and critique.

Know the difference between well-intended advice and advice that isn’t advice at all.

Not everyone is helpful. It may be jealousy, spite or just someone’s naturally ornery character but not all advice is actually advice. People may nitpick at something that is very good simply because it isn’t how they would write or because it doesn’t relate to their experience. I have personally had this happen, where someone who critiqued my piece crossed out most of the words, said it wasn’t realistic because she’d never experienced it and told me to start over. Her comments were a jab to my sensitive writerly soul but I had to ignore them. They weren’t constructive in the least.

Don’t value the opinions of others more than your own.

It’s your work, if you aren’t pleased with your work then your target audience won’t be either. Understand that this may mean your piece gets rejected a couple of times but eventually, it will be published by the right people and you’ll be glad you didn’t strip it to the bare bones and start over.

“Rules” aren’t universal and a lot of times aren’t rules at all, just opinions and personal preferences.

The Oxford comma. Not ending a sentence with a preposition. Not starting a sentence with the word “and.” All of them are just personal preferences. In school, I was taught that these were rules and that if you didn’t follow them, your work wouldn’t be taken seriously. Well, once I began reading the style manuals for myself I realized that this wasn’t true. And neither was that whole, you have to have a certain amount of sentences before you can form a paragraph garbage. It is up to you, as the writer to know what is a rule and what is an opinion. And never forget that the rules can be broken if done in a meaningful way.

You don’t have to prove yourself.

You don’t have to have a certain number of publications before you can start doing what you desire, before you can be free with your words, form and punctuation. You should never feel as though you have to live up to some literary standard because it doesn’t exist, despite what you may see on the surface. As I mentioned before, you may not be published under a large publisher but you’ll find someone who loves your original voice and will gladly accept your work as is. There are dozens of websites such as Poets & Writers and Submittable where you can find your perfect publisher for whatever it is you write.

Be invested in what you write.

Be connected to it. It can be about a spider trying to turn into a human or anything else that suits your fancy. You don’t have to have personal experience with it (I, for one, have never been a spider) but you have to have some attachment. Whether it is the tone, the setting, or just plain curiosity to see how far you can go with it, investment is critical. Why? Because when you aren’t invested, you are more likely to follow every grain of advice, even the unhelpful bits. When you aren’t invested, you become less enthusiastic about maintaining your authorial style and tone which can kill any work.

Listen to your intuition.

It all comes down to what you think. No agent or editor knows what is best for you. And every snippet of advice is just that, advice. It is not truth as there is more than one way to write. There are a million ways to get a single point across and you know what is best for you. So if someone tells you to make a change and it hurts you to even think of doing so, be stubborn and don’t change it. It is as simple as that. I say simple but I understand how hard it is to go against an editor. But no matter what, stick to your guns about your work. If they are truly in your corner, they’ll support your decision.

And if you have any more advice for other writers out there or any comments you’s like to share, please do so. I enjoy reading them and responding to them. The literary world is a big place but once you find your community, you can rest easy. So if you know someone who may need to read this, share it, like it and follow me. I’ll be back with another post next week!

Happy Writing!

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