All writing advice is suspect—even my own

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the writing advice I give. Specifically, I’ve been wondering, Why the hell would anyone want to listen to advice from me? I mean, what do I know?

During my social media sabbatical, I read a book of advice on revising the first five pages of your manuscript. It’s called (appropriately enough) The First Five Pages, by agent and former editor Noah Lukeman. It was written in 2000 and, if you ask me, it could do with a bit of a refresh. Still, it has some good advice in it, even if its examples of what not to do are a bit obvious. Because my writing group asked me to lead a workshop critiquing the first five pages of their manuscripts, though, I figured it behooved me to read this. Anyway, my point (yes, I have one) is not to offer a critique of Lukeman’s book—hey, it’s a bestseller, so what do I know, right?

Ah yeah, there’s my point. What do I know? And why would anyone think they should listen to me?

Since then, I’ve been reading a couple other books on writing: Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit by Steven Pressfield and On Writing by Stephen King, and I like two of the main messages in these. The first one gets it across in its title, and King gets it across in his introduction when he says most books on writing are filled with bullshit.

I have no doubt there’s a certain amount of—um, fertilizer in the advice I give, but here’s the thing: all the advice anyone gives is mainly what’s worked for them, or what they’ve seen work for others. Especially when it comes to writing, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. For every problem you might have with character or setting, there is a multiverse of possible solutions. If one person’s advice doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean your problem is insurmountable. You just might not have found the right advice yet.

For me, advice books work best when they remind me of things I already know, or when they articulate something I’ve been trying to put my finger on but haven’t quite found the words for. When I have that “a-ha” moment.


(Hang on. Wrong A-ha.)

Anyway, maybe I do know a little something. But chances are you do as well, and hopefully if I offer advice, I’ll just remind you of what you already know.