This post originally ran on October 24, 2012. We had recently interviewed Julie Cantrell, author of the bestseller, Into the Free. It's always fascinating to read about an author's road to success. I was shocked and saddened, however, by her 12th grade English teacher's advice:
“Whatever you do, don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You’ll be lucky if you ever publish a greeting card.”
My first thought was, "Who says that to a young person?" My next thought was to hope that her English teacher would see Julie's name in print and realize what poor advice she'd given. But when my indignation for Julie cooled, I suspected that there was something more behind her teacher's words. Perhaps she truly thought she was giving Julie practical advice. But it may have simply been wisdom distilled from her own struggles to see her work in print, culled from a dark place of disillusionment You never know. For whatever reason, it's still just bad advice.
I once heard Debbie Macomber speak about her attempts to sell her first novel. A heavy-handed editor sliced and diced her manuscript and told her to throw it away. Debbie screwed up that place inside of her that knew better and sent it anyway. Now a New York Times bestselling author, she encourages writers to follow their dreams as she did.
We can't all be Julie Cantrells or Debbie Macombers. We won’t all be bestselling authors. Some of us won’t even see our books published through traditional means. Our stories will be different. We all get bad advice during our lifetimes. How do we know the good from the bad?
Julie said it took ten years to get her teacher’s voice out of her head and to believe that she could write, only after remembering that a different teacher had said she had talent. We need to carefully choose those whom we allow to speak into our writing lives.
There is much technical advice for writers, and not even these rules apply 100% of the time. ‘Show don’t tell,’ and ‘don’t use adverbs’ would be two. There are times when both telling and the use of adverbs are appropriate for the story. But the advice about whether or not to write or what to write has to come from a place inside of us. I don’t think anyone else can give you advice for this. I could be wrong.
Have you received advice – good or bad – which helped or hindered you in your writing? We’d love to hear.