In my endless pursuit of practical writing advice for the working writer, I have to plow through a lot of material online, in books and in the trades. A good chunk of it seems to be written by academics with impressive credentials but little to no industry experience, near or current retirees who like to reminisce about the good old days (which, remind me, were when?) and, of course, the newbie who has it all figured out before the ink dries on their first contract.
In reality it doesn't matter to me who offers it up. I don't care how many books are on your brag shelf, what is or isn't on your C.V., or if you even have a writing career to speak of. I'll listen, and if it's really good, I'll probably use it. As we all know, the Publishing biz has very little to do with the art of writing, and not all writers pursue publication. But this advice? Had better be real, and useful, and not something else in disguise.
What don't I want to read? Top of the list: Self-promo dressed up in a flimsy advice costume and holding out its empty goodie bag. Trick or treat, buy what I'm really selling: my book/workshop/seminar/editing service etc. Or the career mini-memoir. Yes, I'm sure that walking barefoot forty miles through the snow to mail a query letter by Pony Express to NY was a horrific ordeal, but knowing this helps me how? I'm especially tired of the rule issuers; I think we should make them fight cage matches: Write What You Know Nick vs. Don't Write What You Know Donald. Slow Is Better Than Fast Fanny vs. Fast Is The Way To Go Gloria. Plot it Paul vs. Organic Arthur.
Now that I think about it, the rule people would make pretty cool action figures, too, wouldn't they? Plot It Paul could come with his own whiteboard, fifteen notebooks, four hundred sticky note pads, a bottle of Mylanta and tiny bundles of index cards stuffed in all his pockets. Organic Arthur's accessories would include a little broken comb for his beard, a Jack Kerouac T-shirt with the sleeves torn off, wee empty whiskey bottles to pile around the base of his desk (if you can find it under all those dusty, unfinished manuscripts) and a button on his back you could push that makes him say, "I can't do that, I'm an artist and it would ruin the story for me."
Sorry. Sometimes I can't help myself.
But if all else fails, please, God, give me some ancient, threadbare, outdated, endlessly recycled and quoted gem o'wisdom that I've heard a couple trillion times, uttered by some Big Name before they had to worry about tax shelters, 12 step programs and botox injections. I mean, really, how can I go on if I don't make my writing mantra what Big Name thought was relevant back when Laurie McBain was raking it in?
Who is Laurie McBain? See? You're already feeling my pain.
When I consider offering writing advice, the first thing I think about is how helpful it will be to someone in the trenches. I can talk shop all day long -- who can't? -- but if it doesn't provide some kind of workable insight, what's the point? Once I feel like I have something that is worth talking about, I then attack the topic from a working writer's perspective, and ask myself a lot of questions, like: how practical is this? How much is it going to cost in writing time, resources, income, creative energy? Is it efficient and user-friendly? Does it provide real methods and/or tools the writer needs? Most important of all, does it really work?
I probably need to take a break from how-to for a while, especially the writer trades. Don't get me wrong, now and then I don't mind reading an open love letter from an author to an imaginary/nameless/highly-idealized reader, a glossary of lofty literary terms I use maybe once a leap year, fond memories from more successful writers on what the biz was like back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or yet another pointless viewpoint on the Amazon-Publisher e-book pricing wars. But is it writing advice? No. Can I use it for myself or the blog? No. Should I pay for it? Why?