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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Sort Conflicting Advice

If you read enough material in the publishing world, you will soon find conflicting bits of advice.  Some writers claim never to go to writers conferences while others (like me) claim it's one of the best ways to get into this business. These different voices clash and at times you wonder how to sort this conflicting advice.

These clashing voices came to focus for me recently through an interview article in the November 27th issue of Publishers Weekly with journalist-turned-novelist Pete Dexter called "Telling What I need to Tell." It's an interesting well-written article from Steve Silva and points to Dexter's forthcoming book called Paper Trails. I had never heard of Dexter until this interview article but I was interested in his responses to the questions.

Notice what Dexter as a jaded journalist who has written a newspaper column for many years says about newspapers: "It's a yawn. I quit reading the papers. There was just no opinion anymore. There were no columnists that made me laugh or made me angry." It's no secret newspaper reading is in decline but I continue reading the daily newspaper. Papers are filled with story ideas--if you are looking for them.

Or here's another piece from this short article: Silva asks Dexter about where he finds inspiration: "I was at a writer's conference recently, and the advice I heard for writers was to read, read, read. It's the opposite for me. To come alive as a writer, I think you've got to live in some meaningful way and live long enough to look back and write about it. I still find inspiration in what's been done to me and for me."

Apparently he finds his inspiration from life instead of reading. I think there is some merit to that but there is also merit to reading--particularly in the type of writing that you want to do or are doing. I'm always surprised when I talk with a writer who wants to write thrillers but doesn’t read thrillers. Or someone who has written a romance novel but doesn't read romance novels. You'd be surprised how often it happens and if you admit such a thing, understand it's not an attractive point for your editor or literary agent. Instead, you've revealed your lack of understanding about that particular area of the marketplace.

How do you handle these conflicting bits of advice? I always look at the source of the advice. Do I respect the opinions of this person and are they someone I want to imitate? In what context did I receive the advice? Was it from a magazine article or a random thought during a late night conversation (always taken with a huge grain of salt)? Is there a way to test my application of this advice? How does it test? 

In the end, each of us have to follow our own instincts and decide which voices to follow and which ones to leave behind. It's good to simply be aware of the conflicting bits of information and devise a plan how you will handle it.

5 Comment:

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Gina Holmes Left a note...

The conflicting advice drove me nuts when I was starting out. Now I've realized there's usually truth in all of it to some degree. I agree that writer's conferences are a huge benefit to writers. I could have been on the right path years earlier had I not been so skeptical. Thanks as always, Terry.

 
At 9:46 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun Left a note...

When your new to the industry, the conflicting info can get to you. What you have to do is find people whose opinion you trust, like yourself....and even that sweet Gina Holmes up above...her Novel Journey is a wealth of great info for writers!

I have found several people like you guys that I trust, and like you said...now that I've been to a GREAT writers conference, I will never miss out on it again!

 
At 6:21 AM, Blogger Norman D Gutter Left a note...

Conflicting advice also has driven me nuts--and still does. A big problem is the difficulty of knowing enough about the person giving the advice to be able to evaluate the source. Plus, advice based on personal experience (as opposed to preponderence of evidence) is valid for that person's experience, and there may not be any conflict. As you say, each has to follow his own instincts.

 
At 9:05 PM, Blogger Crystal Left a note...

When I was first learning to trapshoot, I got advice from everyone. One person would say I was holding my gun too high. At the next station someone else would say I was holding my gun too low. Then, I got a coach. I still got lots of advice, but I learned to tune everyone out but my coach.

I agree it is good to find someone wise in the industry to listen to, but it also helps if that person somewhat cares about your writing, as my coach cared about my shooting. There were lots of wise coaches with many different styles--all good. But to focus in on one philosophy helps more than anything.(

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger Joanne Brokaw Left a note...

I got a lot of conflicting writing advice over the years and I always had to factor in the source and their reputation when deciding what to follow. What works for some won't work for others, so I find those people who have similar goals and follow the ones who've been successful and who have solid reputations.

 

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