Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#WW - Taking Advice

First things first - don't forget to pop over to eharlequin to read Chapter Two of Remember Me, Cowboy!

I confess I had to think of a suitable topic for today. It was wayyy easier when I was in the middle of a book and dealing with the actual writing. But this week I confess I'm not writing anything new. I handed in some revisions last week, sent my editor at Romance a brief proposal for a new duet, I took a short trip to the Harlequin offices in Toronto (see my post at the Harlequin Blog yesterday), and I did up my speaker form for RWA Nationals. I've worked on a workshop I'm giving online at the end of the month and right now I'm in the middle of revisions on my latest.

Drumming fingers.

And then I thought about all the craft books I've read, and all the editors I've worked with, and the writers who talk about their writing and I realized that there is writing advice everywhere I turn. Needing advice doesn't stop when you're published. You're always learning. You still get stuck. Sometimes you have to relearn what you thought you once knew - Twlya Tharp calls this polishing the clock face. And then I realized how overwhelming it is. Because there's no way that all of that advice will work and you will drive yourself crazy trying to follow it.

I think it was Donald Maass who said there are three things to remember about rule breaking. 1)Know the rule 2)Know why you're breaking it and 3) Own that you broke it. And I think that advice can loosely fit into two categories: Advice you really shouldn't ignore and advice that you should take if it applies to you.

Advice you shouldn't ignore are things like:
  • Check an agent/publisher's submitting guidelines before submitting
  • Remember that what happens online stays online
  • The person you piss off today could be your boss tomorrow.
  • Romances have happy, satisfying endings
  • You need to create sympathetic characters
  • Responding to negative reviews usually isn't helpful
In other words, be smart. And if you have questions, ask someone. The romance community is generally a friendly bunch. There are many more things that you shouldn't ignore, but those were a few that popped into my head. These are things that are universal in this business, I think. Though I did see a smashing response to a negative review lately. Always exceptions, I suppose.

And I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy when people tell me I can't do something. It just makes me want to do it bigger and better. I love the saying it's all in the execution. But you'll notice my list doesn't really talk about the actual WRITING of a story. Bear with me...

So take for instance the old caution that sports/celebrity heroes and heroines are taboo. And then you see six books on the shelf all with singers or artists or football players. Whose advice do you take? The voice that says it'll never sell, or the one that says the proof is on the bookshelf? Again - be smart. Don't ignore the first advice just because it isn't what you want to hear. Know the rule. Celeb romances are a hard sell. That means yours has to stand out, be absolutely fantastic and unique. And then make a decision about whether that's the best path for you.

So much advice out there relates to process. When I had my first baby, my sister said something very wise: take the advice that works and forget about the rest. That doesn't just apply to raising children, but writing novels. I'll go first at confession: I read books on the writing craft and then I put them on the shelf and let them go. What I need to remember, I'll remember. Often when I read a new one, I put it in the perspective of the book I'm currently working on and it solves story problems. I learn from that so hopefully I won't make the same mistake again.  If you go to workshops, people will have advice like "do this and this and this to make your story great". Which is great - if it works for you. But if it doesn't, don't freak out. Don't think there's something wrong with you. There will be another way.

And sometimes you're simply not ready to hear what is being said. Last year I'm sure my critique partner was ready to throttle me. She kept telling me about subtext and what was missing in the story and I wasn't getting it and I was so frustrated. I was freezing up and the story wasn't working and arrrrgh!

And then I got it. And once I got it - well, there haven't been huge volumes of "Where's the subtext?" comments on my chapters since. Sometimes it takes a certain person saying something a certain way that suddenly clicks - even if you've heard the same advice for YEARS. Seriously. It's happened to me LOTS.

This is especially daunting when you're trying to discover what exactly your process is, and the only way to get there is through it. Trial and error will show you what works. Follow your instincts and do what is RIGHT and not what's EASY.  Don't feel like you're missing something if a piece of advice doesn't make sense or doesn't work for you. No one writes a story in the same way, and while there are absolutes it's also true that we all get there in different ways.

In other words, keep reading my Writer Wednesday post, and feel free to ignore me. Though I do hope that I make sense to you once in a while.

Until next week,



  1. This is a great post now that I'm reading all the comments on the eHarlequin Valentine's Secret entries. There are some well intentioned comments that contradict my own opinions. I don't think they are wrong so much as we have different points of view on where a particular story is going.

    As an author, the more clear my own vision of my story is, the easier it is to know which advice to heed.

  2. This IS a great post! And I love your advice.

  3. Anonymous8:49 p.m.

    I can so agree on reading the craft books and wondering if I'll remember it all. Then I realized if I'm meant to remember it I will.
    Recently I've had the "Ah-ha" moments. A couple authors posted advice - one added to what the other said, but it was the second one - and the simple wording - that had me think "Oh, I get it now." Now I just have to make sure what I 'got' ends up in the story!