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What To Do With All That Advice

If you are trying to write a book, it probably means you’re getting a lot of advice. And I mean a LOT. Agent blogs. Editor blogs. Anonymous people at varying levels of publishing blogs. This blog. Author blogs. Aspiring author blogs. Forums. Betas. The information comes at you from all sides and you want to become a sponge so you can just absorb it all.

But there’s so much to take in, and it can be confusing. Didn’t your English teachers tell you to find synonyms for ‘said’ when writing dialogue tags? But wait…this isn’t what you’re supposed to do? When did adverbs become the devil? And it’s not cool to start with your MC waking up? But you read a book that started with the MC waking up. What the hell is voice? Why can’t you put a comma there? World building? How do you do that? And scariest of all: once you know the rules you can break them. WHAT??

Somewhere around here, you officially want to throw yourself into a cement wall. How are you ever supposed to process all of this stuff?

Well, you can’t. Not all at once.

This whole writing thing is a never-ending learning process, and you can put that knowledge to good use. Sort through the advice you’re receiving. Some things, you only need to hear once, and you’ll just remember. Maybe other advice is harder to remember. Write it down somewhere. Remind yourself of it for second (or third, or fourth…) drafts. Other stuff probably confuses the hell out of you. There’s no shame in asking questions, or in searching for more information on a topic you just don’t get.

Because I’ll tell you a secret: no one knows all the rules. Anyone who says they do is lying. If you’re trying your hardest to make your writing the best it can be, you’re probably already wandering down the right path. You’ll learn as you go, and you’re going to meet tons of people who want to help you along the way. Allow yourself some time to absorb it all at your own pace, and you will be happier for it.
Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. LOL!! Great post, and so true.

    This is actually the thing I love most about writing as a profession. There is a never-ending amount of learning to do, things to discover, and skills to hone. I won't have figured it all out even until the day I die, and that's just fine with me. Because it's going to make it one helluva journey. :)

  2. First of all, I love this blog. So funny and helpful. Thank you all!

    OK, moving on.

    My MC did start the book by waking up, I wanted her to. The book's about her having nightmares that come true! But then when I submitted my first five pages to YALITCHAT, to get advice, I was told this was wrong. And I had to change my entire first chapter. I had no idea there were rules we had to follow! I don't even know if I'll ever query for this particular book, but I want to make it right.

    Thankfully, I have a wonderful Beta and she's extremely helpful.

  3. Love this post, Kaitlin. I felt very overwhelmed with all the info when I first started diving into writing. It is difficult and frustrating when so many of the rules being thrown around are the exact ones you see being broken. But you're right. No one knows all the rules and sometimes breaking them works out fine. Finding your own style and voice is one of the biggest things a writer can do.

  4. SO TRUE!
    Let me just tell you that this blog has definitely been one of the most helpful with some of the best advice! I completely agree with what you're saying. I just decided that I'm going to be sending to agents soon, so all of the advice coming from different directions is wayy challenging. But, hopefully, I'll make it through :) Thanks, great post!

  5. The "absorb at your own pace" point is excellent. Sometimes you've seen something 100 times but aren't in the right place to comprehend it until #101.

  6. Wonderful advice. I think how a writer uses what they've learned, is as varied as writing styles. In the end you learn to use the tools that work best for you. (Hugs)Indigo

  7. And THIS is the best advice I've read this week! I'm constantly telling people this too. Do what feels right for you and authentic for your story. The end.

  8. Kate: that's something I wanted to say but didn't have the right words for! There are a couple things that feel so obvious in retrospect that I needed to be told at least three times before they sunk in.




  10. Great advice.

    It wasn't until I was halfway through my MFA in poetry that I really figured out how to deal with feedback, really. I always react pretty emotionally to criticism, but at first, I directed a lot of that criticism back on myself and ended up butchering a lot of poems--taking out even the stuff that I had thought was working.

    The key, for me, is sitting on advice for awhile and then really being a filter, and not a sponge. I only take advice that I'm comfortable with--that might seem stubborn, but I probably take more advice than not. This way, I still feel like I have a lot of ownership over my writing, too; I'm not sick of it by the time I'm done. It's something I still feel proud of. That's important, too.

  11. Very wise and thoughtful. And the thing is, you never stop learning and perfecting your craft. That's what is so awesome about writing. Great post!

  12. This post is great and very true. Thanks for this; as an aspiring author, I think I needed to hear it. :)

  13. Great advice. It's easy to get paralyzed when bombarded with rules and advice, especially if one contradicts another. Step back, take a deep breath and keep writing and, like you said, "allow yourself time to absorb the information at your own pace."

  14. Terrific post. We get overwhelmed with tips on what to do and what not to do. I think being able to filter and hold onto what is relevant for you is the key. There's never going to be a "one size fits all" set of rules for a writer.


  15. Adjectives are bad? DOH! I thought it was adVERBS. Shoot.

  16. I use whatever advice suits me and my writing, because some of it won't work for me and some ideas are conflicting.

  17. Matthew, thanks for the typo catch. Fixing it!

  18. I used to compile all the advice I got into this one Notepad document. That become a little too much to handle, LOL. Awesome post, Kaitlin!!

  19. I just dia post on this too.

    Know the rules, and only break them when you need too. After all, if writing was fully governed by rules, they'd have programmed computers to do it by now.

  20. Great post! I like the advice about absorbing at your own pace!

  21. Definitely SO true. I remember revising my first book felt like playing Jenga. I also took the "action/tension" in every scene rule to mean "blow something up in every scene."

  22. I am so in the midst of all what this blog says. I mean, I start to write a story, and it turns out absolutely fabulous. I'm on a roll, writing down words like some mutation of the road runner, but with a pen. And paper. And an idea. But soon, weeks pass, and I'm around the 100th page on this "book" or "story" or "life" that I'm writing, and it seems to fade...and it gets old. I read it over once, twice, three times, all 100 pages of it and all the drama and the tears and the laughter and it just seems...old. And not good anymore. So I give that story up, and start a new one, and this process goes over and over again. All I can say is I have major problems!


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