Writing advice sucks

I feel bad because this guy is selling a writing advice book and his post just reminds me of why I’m never going to read any writing advice as long as I live.

Yes, a few rules are needed. But the vast majority of rules which writers obsess over are either dogma, passing fads, or entirely misunderstood. What matters is story and the reader experience. Everything else is secondary.

Unfortunately, in their attempts to follow all the diktats laid down by their writing group buddies, the agent blogs they frequent, and the pricey workshops they’ve attended, authors lose sight of the reader, the person actually shelling out cash for their book. It’s a sad irony that there’s more and easier money to be made by writing Nail That Bestseller!-type books and haranguing people on how to make their novel the next blockbuster than there is by actually writing.

The problem of too many rules becomes quickly apparent to anyone considering writing a screenplay. You see, there’s a very precise formula all nicely laid out. Writing a killer script or a breakout novel is, we’re told, a simple science.

I’m not talking about three-act structure here. I’m not talking about—yawn—the Hero’s Journey. I’m not even talking about the (insert favorite number here) possible types of story. No, I’m talking Commandments From On High, the madness that reached its peak when screenwriter Blake Snyder’s little book, Save the Cat! became a cult among both screenwriters and novelists.

Apparently, for a story to succeed, everything has to be rigidly structured and happen right on the beat, down to the page. Miss one of those beats or try for originality, and your chance of success, the cultists will tell you, goes down exponentially.

I used to read a lot of writing advice, on blogs and forums, and listen to podcasts. I stopped about five years ago because I realized it was ruining my writing. How? I couldn’t write anything anymore. The constant never ending don’t do this, don’t do that left me thinking of nothing but that.

Don’t use passive voice, don’t use adjectives, don’t use adverbs, don’t use this kind of verb, don’t use said bookisms–the don’t go on forever and everybody has their own pet peeve for you to avoid. Then you’re supposed to get Strunk and White and follow all those rules. I was supposed to have bought that book back in college for my first English class. I didn’t on principle. Who are Strunk and White to tell me how to write?

In the Indie scene there’s a lot about how you’ve got to hit the genre tropes just right or the audience won’t like it. Got to keep to the genre formulas. Can’t have different things happen.

It’s not just that writing advice makes stories formulaic but it makes them styled similarly too. As if everyone should try to be Hemingway and no one should try to be Faulkner. What if I like Faulkner better than Hemingway? What if I like Lovecraft–and I mean actually like how he writes–better than most things being published today?

There are reasons that these rules came about but they’re now applied so dogmatically that there’s little room for originality or developing one’s own voice.

It no longer matters to me. Even the thing about writing to the audience doesn’t help. I have an audience of one–me. I’ve given up on the idea of publishing. If I write something that pleases me, that’ll be good enough. (It hasn’t happened yet.)


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