White Noise

* Not so long ago I stopped reading writing advice from other writers. Is that because I’m brilliant at it? Hardly.

* Every day I wish I was a better writer. Every day I look at what I’ve written and see a better way to do it: a more concise sentence; a means to describe an action or person in punchier, less prolix prose; how to establish character in stronger terms and faster. Often, in the middle of the writing process, I look at my outpourings and tell myself I’m a cunt. I come close to jacking it all in. Somehow I don’t (I’m still trying to understand that one). So, if I’m that uncertain why shun all the advice? Doesn’t it help?

* Sometimes. Here and there. Up to a point.

* Beyond that point it becomes white noise, conflicting with other white noise, often cancelling itself out. Another term for white noise is interference.

* One writer tells you to cut down on adverbs, another to excise them completely. One writer tells you to write in short declarative sentences, another says mix and match syntax – long on top of short and vice versa. One writer tells you to write to the market, another states follow your own path. One writer tells you exactly how to write a particular genre, while another adds with utmost sincerity that genre isn’t important. One writer suggests eliminating back story and states action is character while another suggests drip feeding back story to readers. Somebody intones that plotting is key, another states making it up as you go along is better, and yet another author suggests a mix of the two. Is third person or first person the best way of telling a story? These writers think they’re helping you. And some of you might agree. However, it’s just as likely they aren’t helping. They’re hindering.

* Writers are often narcissists. Hell, why do you think we write? To leave a little something behind – however small – that states I was here. We like to entertain with made up stories or change the world with reportage. We sometimes congratulate ourselves for doing both. So when it comes to advice the same rules apply. Writers like to pontificate that their way is the right way, though they dress it up in a little humility. If a writer is offering advice it’s because they want you to do as they do, even though they always preface it with this is just my opinion, so go your own way. They don’t mean that. How do I know this? I’m a narcissist, too. Although I’m lacking in just enough self-belief to know I’m not that good at what I do and my advice is bullshit. You don’t need it. So I don’t offer.

* If I did offer, it would be more white noise. Interference won’t help you write.

* As stated in a previous post, A Funny Thing Happened… has had a protracted and torturous development. Three and a half years of call and response, ebb and flow. I wrote myself into a corner not so long ago, when turning it from novella to novel. I considered abandoning the project, telling myself it was an earlier Stanton project and to concentrate on the Glasgow Grin follow-up.

* Then I came up with my own little piece of genius advice: go to the all-seeing Internet and see what She has to say. She offered writer advice. Lots of it. Conflicting and often unpleasant. Some ‘advisors’ start with the notion that your manuscript is shit right from the off. Prompted by what I learned, I noticed mistakes in the manuscript that weren’t actually there – they were in my head, not on the page. I started applying advice that I had no business following – fucking things up as a result. After a few days, I didn’t just want to abandon my novel I wanted to abandon myself under the wheels of the Greenwich to London Bridge train. I told you my advice is bullshit!

* Then I revisited these blogs and websites and saw contradictions everywhere – often in the same blogs. Writer states an opinion with clarity one week then contradicts their own fucking advice a few weeks later. Then I remembered something an ex-boss once said:

Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody’s got one. And like arseholes, most of what comes out is shit.

I loved that guy…

* After that I felt much better. I discarded the advice and got on with the task of revising, pruning and expanding following my own instincts. I wrote my way out of the corner I was in, solved some other structural problems, and I did it all on my own. Now I know what I must do to make my writing better. And not heeding a stranger’s advice is a good fucking start.

* Basically, what works for them didn’t work for me. In fact, they made things worse.  Heartache and fucking misery.

* I trimmed a truckload of writers from my Twitter feed, particularly the persistent spammers and those offering unwanted literary ‘advice’. Fuck ’em.

* There is good advice out there. Often writing advice that concerns other aspects of the business; and this is a business, even if your intentions for writing aren’t motivated by financial results. (And if you’re writing purely for money you’re probably in trouble anyway, because not many writers hit the BIG payout.) This by J. David Osborne is something I’ve seen over the last few days that I rather like, and David Gaughran has a wealth of advice about the mechanics of self-publishing on his blog, which is all good, but take most writers’ advice with a pinch of salt. Just because some writer or editor doesn’t want to read another manuscript ever again with lots adverbs or troubling changes of tense – so what? That is on them, not you. If you like adverbs – use ’em. If you have trouble with tenses – so what? Do what you want. Those writers and editors won’t ever see your manuscript, anyway. Chances are they wouldn’t be interested in it even if it was genius.

* At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that you’re happy with what you’re doing. And that’s it, really.

* Rant over.

2 thoughts on “White Noise

  1. Hell yes. And now I know why you stopped following my twerps or is that tweetage? I feel there are two things at play, one is my fucking process and that involves little to no sleep and pound keys and my until it fuckinh hurts, then more of the Same. It is more a head space than any fucking mythod to writing. Anyone foolish enough to follow my way deserves the soul lashing they get. And two, is a larger discution between writers and readers about form and function. Those interest me as long as I remember they have fuck all to do with helping me get pain from my heart onto the page. So just remember, show don’t tell what you know without adgitives, or some such crap advice. They only advice I give myself is “solve it with a keyboard.” And I Denver that Tad fucking williams solves it some times with a pick up game of basketball.

    • Did I stop following your Tweets? I’m pretty sure I’m still following you. You are certainly NOT one of the guilty writers I’m talking about. I agree with Show don’t Tell 95% of the time. Occasionally, for brevity’s sake, Telling is shorthand for getting a character or characters from A to B.

      No sleep. Amen to that! That sounds very much like my process. Type long hours until I get the thing right (or as right as I’m ever going to get it before release). Then do a better job for the next novel or novella.

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