One of the biggest steps for me as a writer was the first time I looked at a piece of writing advice from a mentor, someone I trusted and knew had my best interest at heart, and responded with: “That advice doesn’t work for me.”
Writing advice is everywhere. You can’t turn a corner without tripping over another ‘amazing’ piece of advice that will make you a better/more successful writer. There is general advice that works for a lot of people, it’s true. The problem comes in the assumption that if it works for a successful author, or if it works for a lot of people in general, then why wouldn’t it work for you? However, you don’t write exactly like anyone else in the world, and likewise, no writing advice works for everyone in every situation.
Now you may be thinking: “Okay, so how do I know what writing advice to take?” That, of course, is where your writer’s intuition comes in. With a little bit of awareness about your writing process, and some trial and error, you will be able to tell if any given piece of writing advice is helpful or potentially harmful to your process.
Let’s look at the common, oft-repeated bit of writing advice: “Write every day.”
Now why would this writing advice be helpful? Well, writing every day gives you consistency in your schedule, it helps you build a habit of writing, and it means you’re making progress with your WIP every day. All great things. And for some people, this advice works well, such as people who need that looming expectation of writing *every day* so they don’t put off their writing indefinitely.
I, myself, do need structure, but Fridays are my one full day of work topped off with date night with my husband. Could I make time to write? Of course. But I chose to allow myself that day off from writing. Sometimes I write anyway, but very often I don’t. For me, the advice to write every day is good, but with a slight tweak in order to work with how my life is structured.
For certain people, however, the advice to write every day simply does not work. Perhaps they only have time to write on the weekends, or maybe that’s just when they’re the most productive. Perhaps they work best in face of a looming deadline, or are the type of person who pours out 5k words in a day and then needs a few days off to recharge. For some writers, trying to write every day is not helpful and may actually cause stress or a decrease in productivity. In this case, the advice should be discarded.
So how helpful is this particular advice for you? Well I can’t answer that, but your writer’s intuition can! The easiest way to find out if a piece of writing advice will work for you is to try it. In this case, try writing every day for a minimum of two weeks, long enough that you get over the awkwardness of the new process, so you can see how it actually works. This may sound like we are simply taking the advice, but the important bit is that after each writing session, you want to evaluate how the writing session went. How distracted were you? How productive? Was it a struggle at first that eventually began to feel comfortable, or was it stressful every day? And most importantly, how are these answers different from how your writing normally progresses?
After two weeks, look back at your notes on your experience with the piece of writing advice. Consider whether it helped you or not. If it did, then keep it up. If it didn’t help, then pass on it. And if you’re not sure, then try it a bit more. There is no hard and fast rule on how long this process will take. You want to give any writing advice a fair try, but it is also important to evaluate how it’s working for you at regular intervals. I evaluate how my writing is going every week or two so I can shift as needed. It’s possible that a piece of advice that has worked for you in the past will stop working with a new project or circumstances, or vice versa.
As you try more advice, your writer’s intuition will grow and evolve. It will take less time for you to know whether a certain piece of writing advice is going to work for you or not. That advice my mentor gave to me? I knew right away, because I had tried something similar before and knew it didn’t work for me. The important thing is to keep trying new things in your writing, so you build a process that makes you the most productive you can be in a way that works with you and your schedule. It will take a bit of work, but it will be worth it.
Laura Highcove has a degree in computer science, which is obviously why she is a fantasy writer. She is influenced by anime, video games, table-top gaming, programming, horses, and Norse mythology in no particular order. She currently lives in beautiful Blacksburg, Virginia with her computer, two cats, and husband. Her psychic abilities have not yet developed, but she remains hopeful. If you’d like to learn more about her, head over to her website and sign up for her newsletter (and get a free short story) here.