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Writing Advice You Should Ignore

Writers are bombarded with advice on how to write stronger, better, and faster in their quest to bring the next great American novel into the world. It’s easy to drown in the motivational speeches and quotes out there, and it’s a personal responsibility to filter through them and find what works and what doesn’t. Here are four pieces of advice that I repeatedly hear, but that don’t work for me as a writer with a full-time job outside the home:

Write every day. I reject this advice because I value quality over quantity. It’s a waste of time to write something with no potential for development for the sake of meeting a daily word count. Don’t stress yourself if life is getting in the way of art. Other activities can help your writing more than forcing a daily word count. Review or edit your own work, read books and write detailed reviews, volunteer to be a beta reader or an editor for a fellow writer, or take a refresher course on vocabulary, writing, grammar, editing, or any other topic that can strengthen your writing. Improving as a writer requires more than churning out words. It’s an art like every other and requires that you expand your creativity in multiple ways.

Write what you know. This might be imperative for non-fiction writing, but it’s confining for fiction. In fact, this advice would destroy the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Creative writing is about imagination and research to bring new worlds alive, and a single perspective isn’t enough to create art that takes people to other worlds. One mental exercise I enjoy is imagining parallel lives and putting my characters in those realities to explore possibilities. Don’t fear stretching your imagination. After all, that’s why we do research. Be bold, and explore the unfamiliar.

Read what you write. I just believe this needs to be expanded to include “and other things similar to and different from your genre.” I don’t write fantasy but I occasionally read it and watch fantasy shows and movies on TV, and have found many inspiring ideas and concepts for my sci-fi and mystery writing. Read what you write, but also read what you want. You’ll be amazed at how your muse puts it all together.

Start or join a writing group in your area. Much ado is made about writing and critique groups, like The Inklings (which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis). While it’s a fabulous concept, it might not be practical or possible in twenty-first-century reality. A group is usually limited to the scope of the individuals in it, and the variety in your local area might not be what you need to grow and improve. You need more than other writers to strengthen your writing: I depend on beta readers, reviewers, proofreaders, and a graphic designer to bring my books to life, and I connect with all of them online. If you have the time and patience to gather for a regular meeting then go for it, but don’t feel bad if you have to go online to build your best team. It takes variety, challenge, and perspective to break out of those ruts and grow into what you need to be.

Different things work at different times, for different people. There’s plenty of advice to choose from, so do what works, and let the rest go. Who knows? What doesn’t now might work for a future project. Keep an open mind, and let your creativity have room to grow.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Sherri Fulmer Moorer