More writing advice, good and bad

The best advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Plot’s not working? Dialog sounds like a machine translation of raccoon language? Keep writing. Editors sending you nothing but form rejections? Agents don’t bother to respond to your queries? Your critique group is full of jerks, including the guy who gets unsettling stains on your manuscripts? Keep writing.

For all that writing is a state of being, a way of looking at the world and a role that can come to define who you are, before anything else it is the activity of forming words and sentences until they become stories and novels. Without writing, there is no writing. So keep writing.

This even applies to personal problems. There were many times when a hideous day (or month, or year) at the job felt a little better when I could look myself in the eye (using a mirror, as opposed to a prehensile eyestalk) and tell myself that at least I made my word quota. There were times when my world felt like a swirling toilet and creating fiction was one of the things that helped me climb out of the pot. Keep writing.

The worst advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Yes, I know, the worst advice is exactly the same as the best advice. I never said this wasn’t tricky.

Writing makes some people unhappy. Miserable, even. The joy they get from making stories and any resulting success is outweighed by all the rejection, poor sales, and lack of critical or popular appreciation that is too often our lot.

For many writers, it’s the actual work they’re producing that makes them unhappy. With rare exception, good writing is achieved only through bad writing, be it the proverbial million bad words that precede the first good ones, or (as in my case) the bad words that occur in the middle of the good ones. Is the solution to keep writing? Maybe. But if writing is making you and your friends and loved ones unhappy, then, Jesus, why the hell are you doing it?

You can stop. You can stop for good, or you can stop for awhile. No writing will occur while you’re stopped, and you probably won’t get better while you’re stopped (although it’s been known to happen), but you can stop.

It’s every person’s right to aim for happiness, and if writing is getting in the way of your pursuit, it’s perfectly okay to seriously consider stopping. There are plenty of other worthwhile things to do with a life. Find something else that doesn’t make you miserable and pursue that with all your heart.

— Greg

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