Taking Advice

I saw this list of quotes from Stephen King today, and immediately thought “YES!” when I read the first one: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

As you know, I give writing advice a lot. I speak from a Bachelors and a Masters in creative writing and (more importantly) as a professional in the publishing industry. I’d like to think I’m pretty qualified to give writing advice, as are many other publishing professionals who offer advice on a regular basis. All we can do is sit back and hope people listen. (Mostly so we don’t have to repeat ourselves.)

That said, I understand why some writers don’t take our advice.

With so much subjectivity in the field, how does one differentiate between personal taste and unarguable truth? The thing is, there are always going to be exceptions to rules, so nothing is ever set in stone. But! For the most part, especially for a debut author who’s way less likely to be able to break any rules, there are some things you’ll just need to take an editor’s word on.

Bringing me back to adverbs. Poor, poor adverbs. The thing is, they can be used in moderation, but no one ever uses them sparingly enough, so they get ruined for everybody. Adverbs are words that seem to be universally hated by writing professionals, and yet writers continue to use (and abuse) them. It makes me wonder who is listening to writing advice out there.

So I ask you, fair writers:
How often do you listen to writing advice from professionals, either via blogs, conferences, or Twitter?
How many second opinions do you require before you’re able to think of suggestions as “rules?”
When something is as frowned upon as adverbs, are you still able to write it off as “personal preference?”

Thanks, friends 🙂

What John Lennon Teaches Us About Writing

No story this Wednesday because, instead, I want to pay a bit of tribute to one of, if not my absolute favorite, artist, John Lennon. Thirty years ago today, a man hid a gun underneath a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and murdered the man who brought us The Beatles, and some of the best written songs of all time.

I can remember listening to The Beatles since I was able to form memories. My parents played them so often in the house that it was like growing up in the ’60s. Then, I discovered John’s solo career. As someone who was influenced and inspired by a man who was dead before I was born, I know that John’s lessons are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s and ’70s.

From the words of a writer, here are some of my favorite, relevant quotes from John that will make you better writers as well:

“I’m singing about me and my life. If it’s relevant to anyone else’s lives, then that’s all right.”
– John said this to a fan who couldn’t believe, and was actually hurt, that he personally wasn’t in John’s mind when he and Paul wrote Abbey Road. Matter-of-factly, John told him all he thinks about when he writes is himself, and maybe Yoko “if it’s a love song.” Lesson learned: you’re the only person who matters when it comes to your own work. Forget the trends, what you think audiences want, and what emotions you hope to evoke in others. If it doesn’t come from you, it won’t work anyway.

“When I was a Beatle, I thought we were the fucking best group in the goddamn world. And believing that is what made us what we were. It was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on.” – If you don’t believe that what you’re doing is worth sharing, then no one else will. Next time you’re in doubt, just tell yourself that you are the fucking best writer in the goddamn world! And if audiences still don’t catch on, at least you’ll have produced something you’re proud of.

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”– This is one of the best lessons you can hold onto as a writer. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but good writing transcends agenda, always. If your writing is honest and is a reflection of the world you are trying to convey, then a message will happen naturally. You do not need to preach to anyone. They will see through you and reject your message out of spite.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – Not unlike the message above, remember to be honest in your writing. Whether you’re writing contemporary fiction or world-building fantasy, human emotion connects readers to your work. People are complex, and if your characters are just as dynamic, readers will find different ways to connect with them, leaving their own take from your story up for interpretation.

“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.”  – Taken out of the context of John’s time, think of this quote as a “there’s nothing new under the sun” colloquialism. There will always be someone with your idea and there will always be those writing in your genre. It doesn’t matter that there are eight million novels out there about a rugged, just shy of retirement, detective who needs to solve this one last case. Or that there seems to be a never-ending supply of spies kicking the asses of terrorists. All that matters is how you write it, and that will make others want to rediscover “what is known.”

And finally…

“You’re all beautiful and you’re all geniuses. “

Thanks, John.