Around a year and a half ago, when I decided to get back into writing, I looked for some advice online. Guess what? The internet is full of advice about writing. In just a couple of days, I had 20+ websites bookmarked and kept finding more. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking for advice on other topics, but the sheer quantity of writing advice online is almost unbelievable. It seems that everyone and their cousin’s neighbor has something to say on the topic.
However, like anything in life, I soon discovered that you need to be careful about writing advice. Some of it is not necessarily beneficial. This applies to any topic, of course, but I found it especially true with regard to writing. Sometimes, that cousin’s neighbor doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
I’m not going to dispense my own writing advice, though I’ve thought about it. I don’t feel qualified. I’m mostly writing about my own experiences. And from time to time, I may throw out my own opinions about something I’ve read. But that’s all it is: my opinions. I have no great wealth of knowledge to give out… yet. Maybe someday I will.
You see, that’s one of the key things I discovered about the writing advice online. Some of it is written by people who have no business giving out advice. I’ve seen websites filled to overflowing with advice, and yet the writer of this advice has never published a single book. Others have even larger sites with even more advice, yet they’ve only self-published a couple of titles on Amazon. Then there’s some that have only written books (sometimes self-published) that are ABOUT writing, but they’ve never written anything else. Perplexing. The ones that make me really roll my eyes are the sites that look like they were designed in 1992 and never updated since. I saw one that said something about “this month’s focus is…” and the topic hasn’t changed since I discovered it.
My point is that we should use discernment in choosing where we get advice. Some people are doing this just to make money off of gullible wannabe authors. Some are doing it because they think they know more than they actually do.
Let’s use a ridiculous example. I work on a Mac computer. If I start having problems with it, where should I go for advice? Should I ask my neighbor, who almost never touches a computer, from what I’ve seen? Should I ask my friend who hates Macs and insists that Windows is far superior? Should I ask another friend who used to use Macs back in the 1990s, but now swears by Linux? Or should I ask a genius at the Apple Store? The answer should be obvious. Why listen to advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about?
That’s where I come down. When I seek out advice, I want the best advice. Some choices are obvious, like Writer’s Digest, which has been a standard for all things writing for close to a century. Then there are legitimate best-selling writers who are willing to give out advice and share their experiences. No one can question Brandon Sanderson’s success, for example. He regularly teams up with a couple of other authors to produce a short podcast on writing topics. It’s been going on several years and is full of great advice. I’m a big fan of David Farland’s writing tips (he’s also a best-selling author), and James Scott Bell, who is extremely prolific, has also written some helpful books on writing.
Since publishing is an industry, sometimes advice can come from non-authors; it can come from those involved in the business side of it. Agents are a good source of advice on how to get noticed. Query Shark, run by an agent who gleefully rips writer queries to shreds and then shows how they can be better. It makes me laugh, but has definitely improved my query game. John Adamus is an editor/writing coach who has been in the business for decades. Besides his blog, and his paid services, he dispenses free advice on Twitter daily. Jane Friedman is an editor that has over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry and a website chock-full of brilliant tips. And so on.
Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Seeking out advice on both sides of the issue is a good idea. Just make sure you’re getting advice from people who have your best interests in mind.