Too many teachers spoil the broth…

I’m mixing metaphors, I know, but maybe that’s because I haven’t taken the reams of writing advice that tumbles off the internet by the second. Everywhere I look, be it Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or via email, somebody is telling me to drop the adverbs, clarify my plot, construct a compelling character, write dialogue like a pro (not sure whether that’s professional or prostitute – they don’t often clarify things themselves), build killer descriptive prose, or do that other thing that I obviously don’t do often enough.

Frankly, I’m fucking sick of it. I don’t want to hear or read your advice any more.

If Elmore Leonard, or Stephen King, or Margaret Atwood, tells me how to write I might sit up and take notice – they’ve sold lots of books, they’re respected by their peers, and most importantly they know how to tell a good tale – but if some individual who sells maybe thirty books a month (well done on selling thirty more than I do) tells me how to write my novel then excuse me if I ignore that advice. And excuse me further whilst I delete you from my Twitter feed.

The worst thing about the self-publishing revolution is that anybody with a couple of books under the belt and the ability to string a coherent sentence together believes that they have the right to offer writing advice to the rest of us. Creative writing classes proliferate like viruses, virtual shelves groan under the strain of unknown authors offering advice we don’t need (for a price, of course), and newspapers, magazines, agencies and publishing houses even get in on the act with highly expensive weekend courses that teach you how to write the next bestseller. Much of this stuff is only a step above those piece of shit spam adverts that say: Dermatologists hate her – £5 cream more effective than Botox; Discover this strange method to lose stomach fat; Middlesex man discovers the key to rapid penis growth.

It’s all bullshit, all a myth. The snake oil of the 21st century. Their “advice” is there only to make you feel bad about yourself, in much the same way as these spam adverts make you hate your appearance enough to part with good money for their useless fucking products. They want you to read their book (for a fee), to take their course (for a fee), and while you’re there, why not check out the other books and courses they’re selling.

Do what you want to do. Don’t let some “expert” tell you how to write or what to write. Teach yourself how to write, don’t listen to somebody you’ve never heard of. Learn from your mistakes. Raymond Chandler rewrote Erle Stanley Gardner stories to teach himself the mechanics of plotting and deconstructed Hemingway to get the knack of prose rhythms. And he’s one of the finest writers of prose of the twentieth century, in addition to being one of the finest crime writers ever.

So, frankly, if it’s good enough for him then it’s good enough for me.

4 thoughts on “Too many teachers spoil the broth…

  1. That would be 100% correct…my only advice to would-be writers is to stop at once, you’re probably no good.

    I think a lot of this shit comes from America, specifically people who think they are editors and can write a book by numbers.

    I had an argument with some automaton who told me all characters had to show clear development by the end of a book, or it was “wrong”. I pointed out Robert B Parker’s Spenser, who didn’t change an iota over 30 books…..but they’re all convinced whatever they’ve read or been taught is correct. Whoops…bugger…I used a passive verb there.

    • Yeah, this ‘all characters need to have an arc’ bullshit is something that has been gleaned from the movies. They don’t. Spenser is a great example of a character that doesn’t change, and the same thing applies to Richard Stark’s Parker, and Lew Archer, or Travis McGee.

      Passive and active verbs. Active better for fiction, passive better for reports and blah blah blah…

      I’m tired of the advice of others, tired of the posturing. Some of them might do better to improve their own writing before offering advice to others.

      Rant over.

      • Yours maybe!
        Some of these buggers have never even finished a book and they’re spewing out the rules!. There’s a lot of f@%*ing good words in English, and I’ll use any of them I feel like (except ‘exit’ as a verb!) even if the beardy tosser at your creative writing nightclass underlines it

      • Creative writing classes at University I get – really. The student comes away with a useful degree and a skillset that can be applied to any number of careers (journalist, academic, copywriter, to name a few), but these expensive weekend or evening courses often do more harm than good. You pay a lot of money for no qualification or a certificate that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Might as well burn your money.

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