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.
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.