by Will Viharo
When you tell someone you’re thinking of writing a book, you will most be likely be inundated with well-meaning suggestions, comments and questions from friends, family, and fellow authors.
They may each offer interesting contributions to inform your mission. Or maybe not.
Just how valuable is anyone’s advice when it comes to this esoteric endeavor, and when, if ever, should you accept it? Including right now?
It’s much easier to tell someone what not to do than what to do, especially if you’re speaking from experience (like me), or simply sharing second hand information from equally or even more qualified professionals in this field (which I often do as well, because hey, what do I know?).
I’ve been in this game a while, and while there are no steadfast “rules” when it comes to achieving success as a writer. There are general guidelines whose outcomes can vary depending on individual circumstances like talent, timing and luck.
But many of these “guidelines” – whether formally taught or acquired via raw experience (both can work) – have become established pieces of shared wisdom, passed down from generation to generation, almost to the point of achieving factual status.
Conversely, there are certain things that, over time, have earned the opposite reputation. These are fairly common bits of either requested or unsolicited advice from people that should either know better, or have no idea what they’re talking about.
1. Quit right now. This is always my first response whenever someone tells me they’re considering a literary career. Only people who aren’t really serious about pursuing their passions will immediately throw in the proverbial towel. But if you are following your own muse, you should toss that towel right in my face. Figuratively speaking, of course.
2. Write what you know. This cuts both ways (since I previously lauded this as advice all writers should take). On the one hand, it makes perfect sense, since no reader wants to invest in work by someone that has no idea what he or she’re talking about. On the other, more practical hand, you’d be automatically limiting yourself to your current knowledge of any particular genre or topic. Research, in any form, is almost always required when embarking on most types of written entertainment or information, even if you think you already know all there is to know about the subject at hand. So to speak. It’s a learning process that never results in graduation. Only more tests, failures, and passing grades. However, I do personally recommend you write from the heart, as well as the brain, otherwise you’ll burn out early.
3. You’re doomed to fail no matter what you do. This should only be taken as a challenge, and anyone telling you this, especially if you’re just starting out on your unique journey (and they’re all unique), is probably coming from a very bitter place. Don’t let a stranger’s sense of futility crush your spirits. You still have plenty of time to let your own do that. But let it develop organically, at least.
4. You’re bound to succeed as long as you persevere. Um, no, sorry. Odds are against it, in fact, especially in this industry, since, let’s face it, more people write than read. But again, you never know unless you try. Plus you should always define and adhere to your own standards of success, which lessens your chances of seemingly inevitable disappointment.
5. Write every day if you want to hone your craft. The reason I include this one, despite its traditional popularity, especially from writing instructors, is that forcing yourself to write against your own will can result in work that will only confirm your own worst suspicions and doubts regarding your innate abilities. It’s definitely a good idea to come up with a workable routine so you don’t grow lazy and complacent, but if your muse isn’t cooperating, maybe it’s time to give him or her a rest, especially if you’ve exhausted all attempts to rev the creative engine. It’ll catch a spark eventually, so keep your motor warm, even if it’s just idling. Just don’t overheat it or it might explode and die. You may also wind up using way too many clichéd metaphors instead of original expressions.
Then again, I could be wrong about all of this. Meaning this very blog is #6 on the list.
PHOTO: MP CLEMENS