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Some Advice on Advice

I’ve been away from the Highway for a little while because of, well, this!


Her name is Adele. But mostly we call her The Squidge.

There are quite a few things that having a baby and writing have in common: there’s the excitement, the angsty angst, the goriness, the thing where you turn into a hermit, the moments when you wonder quite seriously whether you are completely insane, the moments when you go ‘wow’ because you honestly can’t believe you have brought such a glorious thing into the world.

And also, there’s the advice.

It sets in whenever you attempt any major undertaking in life. But when you set out to give birth to novels or tiny humans, it especially sets in. There are a lot of people out there, and many of them have walked through the territory already and know it very and extremely well. Their intentions are usually good. And their advice is often excellent. Which is why the advice I’m giving you now might seem slightly weird.

You see, there’s all that excellent, well intentioned advice. To let your baby sleep in your bed, because you’ll get more sleep yourself that way. To never let your baby sleep in your bed, because you might end up with a six year old who still refuses to sleep anywhere else, and you might want to, you know, make further children. To avoid planning your novel, because if you stick too rigidly to one idea it could stop you from seeing all the potential paths the story could go down. To make sure you have a good plan for your novel, because otherwise you could get hopelessly, horribly lost in a sea of narrative goo and suddenly you’ll realise that your novel has gone off on a weird, aimless tangent and your protagonist has somehow befriended three dinosaurs and a weremoose. To feed your baby according to a schedule, because then you’ll be able to plan out your days and be more productive. To feed your baby whenever he seems hungry because, honestly, you might end up deaf from the screaming otherwise, along with your neighbours. To start your query letter with the title and the genre and the word count, so your prospective agent knows exactly what she’s dealing with. To put that stuff at the end of the query letter, because putting catchy plot related stuff at the beginning is more exciting, and your prospective agent might have just read ten monotonous queries about sparkly weremeese and need some excitement.

Am I telling you not to listen to the advice? Absolutely not. The many mothers and fathers I know who have given me tips on how to deal with babies, the parenting books I’ve read – all of them have taught me things which have been invaluable. And the time I spend reading agent and writer blogs online is in many ways just as useful as the time I spend writing. Listening to the advice is very useful indeed. But – and this is an important but – that doesn’t mean you should always follow it. Or even try to follow it.

You see, there comes a time when your baby does some crazy weird thing no book ever told you about, and there’s no one there to tell you how to deal with it. And there’s the moment when you sit down in front of a blank, white page knowing you’re meant to fill it with something, and the thing you’re filling it with has to somehow make sense. And if you keep thinking of all the advice – make a plan! No! Don’t make a plan! Use similes! No! Don’t use similes because there’s that writer you love who never ever uses similes! – well, if you keep thinking of all that advice, you’ll never get anywhere. It’s like trying to write with a crowd of people yelling at you.

So what do you do?

You take a deep breath, you push the crowd out of your way and you trust your instincts. Because if you’ve done your research well enough, if you’ve spent lots of time reading and lots of time writing, believe me, your instincts are good instincts. Sure, they’re not perfect. All parents make mistakes at some point, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their children will grow up to be nervous wrecks. And there’s always something you’ll miss when you’re writing, but that’s what beta readers are for. For the time being, your instincts are good enough to carry you through. So stop worrying about whether you’re doing what Dr Sears would do, and stop worrying about whether your dream agent will find your jokes funny. Writing is not an exam. No one’s going to be waiting with a red pen to grade you when you finish your novel. There is no one right way for everyone to write.

So let go of all that advice that’s been weighing you down, and get on with it.

What advice have you found most useful for your writing? And what advice have you chosen to ignore?

Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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15 comments:

  1. The best writing advice I've been given is to just write. Which probably seems totally obvious, but still. I know I'm probably not the only person who needs to be reminded every once in awhile.

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  2. Also, congrats! Adele looks adorable =)

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  3. So, so gorgeous! Enjoy every moment!

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  4. First of all, Adele is adorable. Congratulations!

    The best writing advice I ever received was to make a word count goal and try to meet it every day. My every day tends to apply mostly when I'm writing a book, but I've found it incredibly useful (and fulfilling) to meet a word count goal daily.

    I suppose the worst writing advice I ever received was to just self-publish already. Don't get me wrong, I don't think self-publishing is a bad idea and it's certainly within the realm of possibilities for me, but I knew my WIP wasn't ready yet (despite how much I wanted to be done with it), so I held back. I'm glad I did.

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  5. Congratulations, and so true! The writing and child-rearing comparisons will continue through future phases too - letting your baby go out into the world, facing judgement, etc.

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  6. BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL ADELE I WANT TO SQUEEZE HER!!!!

    This was great advice, and SO TRUE. Collecting bits of knowledge from others is great, but it's so important to know when to trust your gut and do it your way.

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  7. first of all, OMG LEILA CONGRATS! adele is absolutely gorgeous and i sooo wanna coddle her! but not in a creey way, of course. :D

    also, this is such an awesomesauce post. i LOVE it. i actually wrote a post similar to this one a few days back which pretty much states the same thing, but it's great to hear it over again. especially since the new-parent-analogy makes it really interesting :D

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  8. Aw, she's so adorable! Great advice, too :)

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  9. WEREMOOSE

    The squidge could not possibly be more precious, Leila. And this is all excellent advice!

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  10. I love love love this post! And OMG ADORABLE BABYYYY *hugs*

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  11. Sparkly weremeese could not possibly be monotonous ;)

    Also, I love your advice. And Adele is adorable.

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  12. I really, really want to read a novel about sparkly weremeese now.

    Also, excellent point! Thanks!

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  13. Great post! :D I love the analogy, and I couldn't agree more. Advice is always useful, but at the end of the day, it's your writing, your novel, and you're the only one who must decide how you're going to handle it.

    People should remember that everybody has a different writing method that works just for them, just as every baby is unique. If there was an infallible recipe for writing good books or raising perfect children, we'd know about it already!

    Very cute Adele, btw, I sooo want one of my own! ;)

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  14. Great post Leila! YOu are amazing!
    And Adele is THE PRECIOUS!!!

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Item Reviewed: Some Advice on Advice Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin