How much help is TOO much?

Monday, April 25, 2011

There are endless learning resources out there for writers: how-to books, blogs, forums, critique groups, writing workshops … you get my point.

All of these have merit. Critique groups/partners in particular are vital because we as writers are so married to our plot and characters it’s impossible to be objective. Not to mention we’ve read our own stuff so many times we have zero chances of catching even the most glaring of mistakes. Fresh eyes (that aren’t your family or friends) are a great way to get a handle on the quality of our books and generate honest opinions about what needs to be fixed.

But what about the plethora (purpley word, I know) of books about plot, structure, characters, yada, yada, yada? How are we to choose what’s a must-read and what to skip?

Opinions of our peers are great, but a book that strikes a chord with me may fall flat for someone else.

And how much is too much? In the past two months, I’ve read Writing The Breakout Novel, Make a Scene, On Writing, and now Story Engineering. I enjoyed them all and thought I learned a great deal from each one.

And yet, with each read, I’m revising my novel and questioning my plot and structure. If it doesn’t fall into the parameters set by so and so, who claims you won’t get past the slush pile without following the rules, then doesn’t that mean back to the drawing board?

I want to learn. I want to get advice from experienced professionals and writers at all different stages of their careers. By no means do I think I know it all – far from it. So I read the books, follow the blogs, and comment on discussions.

And then I question myself some more. I’m getting opinions from others based on little bits and pieces I’ve told them about my book, and there’s no way to do it justice without at least giving a complete synopsis. That’s not to say that what I’m hearing isn’t valuable – it is. But we can’t allow ourselves to become buried by the enormous amount of information that’s out there.

To make matters worse, one expert may tell us one thing while a second contradicts it. Both have impressive creditials. So who’s right?

We need to pick and choose what to read and how to apply it. Each one of us will do this differently, and the trick is figuring out what works best for our story. Of course we must get the plot and structure right – without them we have nothing but a big pile of goo and months wasted.

But seeking help from too many different sources can bring our writing to a halt as we twist and turn in confusion trying to figure out who to listen to and how to apply their information to our books. We need to be willing to learn and grow, but we also need to believe in ourselves as well.

When you sat down to began your book, you did so because you probably had a great idea or a character you loved. As you’re branching out and learning more about techniques, don’t forget why you started writing in the first place. Don’t stretch yourself so thin by seeking out advice that you end up completely lost and giving up.

Find a critique partner, a couple of blogs to follow. Read a couple of books and learn from them, but remember the rules aren’t always steadfast. Some can be bent. Consider looking into a professional editor (make sure you do your research on this one!) that offers different packages and will give you an experience opinion based on actual pages of your book.

Be willing to listen and grow, but don’t lose your passion in the process. If you can’t love what you’re doing, it most certainly isn’t worth your time.

What about you? Where do you seek advice and how to choose to sift through the information?

3 comments:

Halli Gomez said...

You ask great questions. I've often wondered those same things myself. I rely heavily on critique groups and I also send my work to a few friends that have no writing experience because they more accurately represent "readers."

I have read some of the books that you have and I have PAGES of notes on structure, character development, suspense, etc.

The best piece of advice I got though was to just write. You can't change everything based on "experts" because as you said, they say different things depending on their experiences and likes.
Just keep writing!

Stacy said...

Thanks Halli! This post came about after a few days of being inundated with advice, and I'm sure a lot of it was very good. But it was sending me in different directions and had completely stagnated my writing, so I had to step back and be a bit more objective.

You're right, just keep writing is the key. My problems occur when I start worrying about whether or not I'm doing everything right to have a chance to be published, and then I allow myself to become bogged down.

Thanks for your comment!

Diane Amy said...

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http://www.dianeamy.com/2011/04/versatility-is-new-black.html

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