Monday, January 7, 2013

All Things in Moderation - Even Writing Advice

by J. Lea López

 Have you ever watched one of those weight loss stories where the person who's lost 120 pounds says something along the lines of, "I had tried everything. Every fad diet, every pill. Everything. Then one day I woke up and I knew I couldn't live like this any more. I was killing myself. That's when I started my journey to getting truly healthy. It was hard work. But I did it, and I feel great."

Well, I'm there. With my writing, that is. And hopefully you can learn from my journey.

I also have weight struggles, but I've never been one for crash dieting to the extreme. There are all kinds of "cures" and systems out there, many of which seem to contradict each other. Low Glycemic, Atkins, Weight Watchers, Gluten-free, Paleo, all bacon all the time (I don't know if that's really a diet, but I could get behind that). There are a lot of people who seem to do well on each of these plans, but sometimes people can take it to unhealthy extremes. The same goes for writing advice. Taken to extremes, even the best advice can be detrimental to your writing. I'm sure you've heard - and tried to implement - a lot of it:

  • No adverbs. Ever!
  • Action, action, action! Tension, all the time! 
  • Be unique - but don't be so unique that you're the only one who will get your writing.
  • Start smack dab in the middle of the action and let every word further the plot from there.
  • Banish every trace of passive voice.
  • Read all the classics because they're the only benchmarks by which to measure your talent!
  • Characters shouldn't growl, breathe, or hiss their words. Using anything other than "said" is a crime against humanity!
  • Personalize your query - but don't kiss ass.
  • Blog, tweet, market, network and get your name out there - but do it the "right" way.
The list could go on and on. There are valid points of advice that inform each of those statements, of course, but too often we try to incorporate too much of other people's advice into our technique. Then we wonder what happened to the voice, the pizzazz of our own writing that we were pretty sure was there when we first started.

I was tweeting with a writing friend the other day about food and nutrition. I told her that my approach now was more along the lines of everything in moderation, while focusing on thing that are as natural as possible, not depriving myself of fun stuff, not beating myself up when I don't eat as well as I want, and being aware of foods that are triggers or have specific health consequences for me, as opposed to what other people tell me my body should or shouldn't have.

Then I realized my personal approach to writing and publishing had shifted to something very similar recently.

Somehow, somewhere, one day, something just clicked. I'm open to learning new things, hearing criticism, discovering better ways to do things and challenge myself as a writer. But the bottom line is that literary crash diets, like the nutritional ones, will ultimately get you nowhere. I know my own strengths as well as my own weaknesses, and the plethora of writing advice and literary techniques are like a massive buffet that I can pick and choose from to get my desired results.

This year, I hope any of you prone to dangerous writing crash diets will learn to take all advice in moderation and trust your writerly gut. Do you know why there are so many nutritional plans out there that all seem to work for so many different people? Because health and nutrition isn't one-size-fits-all. Neither is writing.

If you've deleted every adverb and gerund from your writing and it still seems a bit sickly, take a deep breath and a step back. Trust me, it will click. It will be hard work to get your writing into prime condition. But it will be worth it.

Are you guilty of crash dieting with writing advice in an attempt to get your writing in tip top shape?

J. Lea López writes erotica and women's fiction. Find her on Twitter or her blog. To read some of her mainstream short stories, check out the anthologies The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse and Spring Fevers. Find some of her erotic short stories on her Facebook page.


Chrissy Munder said...

Excellent post, and a great way to start the New Year off.

Laura Diamond said...

YES. I've tried to do all those bullet points and ended up taking all the voice out of my writing. Feedback from agents praised my technical writing skill, but the story that resulted just wasn't interesting. So now, I add back in what some think are mistakes and it adds voice and interest. Go figure! LOL!

Nice post!

SC Author said...

Great post. Stepping back is a big thing for me, and it helped TONS!

Denise Covey said...

Yes, I've been there, done that. But the best writing rule to follow is that there are not rules. And rules are made to be broken. Best selling authors break those rules all the time and we as readers love it.
Happy New Year!

Jemi Fraser said...

So true!! I tend to disregard the 'must's and the 'always' types of advice - they never work for me and as you say, the voice can disappear!

JeffO said...

Isn't it wonderful when you have those kinds of moments, when something just all of a sudden makes so much *sense*?

J. Lea Lopez said...

With my first manuscript, I edited it nearly to death, trying to incorporate all the advice I got. But it didn't feel right. Eventually I edited it so some things were more like they originally were, and now I'm happy with it. We have to remember that we are the authors of our particular stories and not give that authority away to anyone who has a bit of advice for is.

A. L. Brock said...

Wonderful post! I tried so hard to follow the rules, for a while I killed my voice (never a good thing). This post is a nice reality check. You learn the rules so you know which ones bend for you. :)

Hannah Kincade said...

I don't think you should never use adverbs. Even Stephen King said it was okay for a few, but just a few. ;) Good list though.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Yes yes yes. Commenter Denise says there are no rules, and in some ways I agree - but I think that your post demonstrates that yes, there is excellent advice and there definitely ARE rules... but once you know and understand them, we better know how to adapt (or break) them to work for us.

My query was the hardest thing to craft based upon all the crash dieting rules, and while it still hasn't been super successful, it turned out so much better when I loosened the reins.

Debra McKellan said...

So true!

J. Lea Lopez said...

Hannah, just so we're clear, I'm not advocating everyone follow the bullet points to be successful. Those were my examples of things many writers try to do to extremes, often to the detriment of their writing. Like you said, even Stephen King says a few adverbs are okay. :-)

Janet, I still struggle with not going to advice extremes when it comes to my queries. I guess I don't quite have confidence in my abilities in that arena just yet. :)

Nancy Johnston said...

Thanks for this tips. I always follow Writing Advice . I love writing. So I need better tips about auto paraphrase

Mickle Jones said...

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aliya seen said...

With respect to all those key essentials and details it won't be too difficult for the students to try all those values which must have been followed herewith.