I subscribe to several writing web and blog sites. I trust them to give me sound writing advice. But sometimes the sheer volume of advice engulfs me, and I feel like I’m in the middle of a tidal wave.
Being overwhelmed can lead to creative paralysis. I work myself into a frenzy trying to apply everything to all my writing right now. Or, I close the computer or put down my pen and count the leaves on my philodendron plant. Neither approach is helpful.
The Problem With Writing Advice
With so much useful writing advice, how do you know where to start? How do you determine what advice is useful for you? How do you apply the advice to your writing practice? How do you sift and sort writing advice to maximize the benefits of the information?
A trusted source touts one practice activity as the quintessential tool for writing success. Another article promotes a different approach as the one to use. Still another contradicts one or both of the first two.
And all three articles give the impression that their advice is non-negotiable.
Recognize that all practices work for someone, but no practice works for everyone. No two writers are alike. Writing advice is one person’s account of what works for her or him.
7 Steps to Find the Best Writing Advice for You
Here are seven points I think about when I’m trying to determine whether a piece of writing advice is good for me and my writing projects.
1. Assess yourself.
Start by figuring out where you are and where you want to go with your writing. Take an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and the type of writing you want to do.
For a while, I devoured all writing advice without thinking about my writing goals and style. I was a newbie writer, and everything sounded necessary for me to learn right now.
In time, I realized what worked in some situations did not work in others, and there was no reason to feel frustrated. It’s the nature of writing and my writing process.
I learned to honor my process and adapt the advice to my style rather than trying to change everything about my writing every time I read an article.
2. Is it valid?
Weigh the advice for validity. Consider the writer’s experience, if possible. Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is the writer’s area of expertise? How long have you subscribed to the site? Do you trust the source?
- Does the advice seem sound or fluffy (too good to be true)? Have you heard the advice previously or does it introduce you to new concepts?
- Are several writers recommending a certain approach or practice? If there are contradictions or differing perspectives, do they make sense, or do they add to the confusion?
- Does the information address a writing dilemma that you have?
- How well is the technique explained?
- Read the comments. What are other readers saying about the advice?
I love asking questions, and the answer to a well-defined question can produce powerful results.
3. Does it work for your goals?
If it doesn’t work for you in its entirety, are there components of the advice that you can adapt to your writing projects? A new technique may work for some of your projects but not all of them.
I look at the advice and think, “This may work for me.” I give it a test practice and see how well it fits and whether I want to incorporate it in its entirety or adapt only a portion.
4. Try new things.
Consider your writing approach and practice, but do not discount a new one.
There is a difference between only writing what you know and being aversive to learning something new. Learn the difference between a practice that won’t work for you, and one that challenges you and would be beneficial for your writing.
My writing style and process continue to evolve as I incorporate new practices. I become a better writer with each piece of advice. I pinch my style here and tweak it there. I learn the nuances of writing well.
5. Step away, then come back.
What if you like your writing style and techniques, and you see writing advice as insulting and a waste of time? Seeing words in print that contradict a beloved practice can be painful.
Put the advice aside for a day or two and go back to it with a fresh attitude.
How much do you know about the topic? Is it a strength or a challenge for you?
Learning something new may transform your writing. Sometimes, I feel comfortable with the way a writing project is coming to shape; then I read advice that bucks it.
Even when writing advice feels painful or disruptive at first, I keep thinking, “This can help me. What is the advice trying to teach me?”
6. Receive with gratitude.
Remember, no matter how forceful and directive an article might come across, it’s always an offering from the writer. The writer is sharing a process that works for her or him that may work for you, too.
What a boon that members of our vibrant writing community are willing to help each other.
When weighing writing advice, take what you need now and save the rest for later. When advice sounds like a command or like the only way to do something or the single reason I’m failing at some aspect of writing, I’ve learned to honor my process, temperament, and style and consider my writing as a package.
I save or print some articles because I need time to absorb the advice, and I need some time to practice.
7. Remember that learning is a gift.
Be appreciative. Someone spent the time and energy to share a strategy that worked for her or him. Consider that the writer may have a lot more experience than you.
Learning from people who have been in the trenches for a while is a privilege. I have a deep regard for the people who offer writing advice. They’re reaching out to others and sharing their expertise.
You’ll Always Learn
Riding the tidal wave of writing advice doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary. Challenge is a good thing. With our newfound knowledge, we can relax into the rhythm of our process and style.
You are the ultimate judge of how a piece of writing advice will work for you. May you find writing advice that helps you turn your words into treasures. Happy writing!
How do you approach writing advice? Let us know in the comments.
We spend a lot of time learning from the writers who contribute their wisdom to The Write Practice. Now, it’s your turn. What’s a writing tip you’ve learned? What do you have to teach your fellow writers?
Take fifteen minutes to explain an aspect of writing. Then, share your writing advice in the comments below. Be sure to read through other writers’ advice and give them feedback — you might just find something helpful to help you with challenges you’re facing!