Friday, August 8, 2014

Summertime Reruns: Writing Advice: Help or Hindrance?

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. 


Suzy Parish said...

I enjoyed your post! Especially the part about Debbie Macomber. The first writer's group I ever attended was an eclectic bunch. That made for lively readings and discussion, the only problem was there were so many genres present there was no strong guidance in any one area. As a writer new to critique I took every advice offered and applied it to my stories! I remember one particularly dark day when I was telling the leader of the group how I had totally rewritten a chapter in my WIP. He looked at me in horror and asked why. I said, "Well, so-and-so said to." He shook his head and said, "Don't apply every suggestion to your work. It's your work!" That was several years back but I still remember that revelation. It's my work! Love you guys!

Sandra Stiles said...

Your post is so important. I had a creative writing teacher in tenth grade tell me it was a good thing I wanted to be a teacher because I'd never make it as a writer. I had willingly chosen her class with enthusiasm. It wasn't until I was teaching a class of 7th and 8th graders and one of them asked why I didn't write books for my classroom shelves because they loved what I wrote, that I actually started writing again. Teachers have so much power in their words. I encourage EVERY student who wishes to write, even if their writing is terrible. They CAN learn how. I've seen students blossom. Sometimes all it takes to release the inner writer held prisoner is encouragement and belief in them.

Latayne C Scott said...

Suzy, I got a mental boost from the Debbie Macomber story, too. It helps me keep my nose to the grindstone!

Latayne C Scott said...

Sandra, I teach middle school too. Have you posted any of your stories that your kids liked?