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.