Too Much of a Good Thing
Art is a discipline. Just like anything else worth doing, it takes practice, research, honing. Some people may be more naturally inclined than others, some pick up the brush, or the pen, or the microphone, as a child while others don't explore their passion until much later.
The fact remains that no matter what type of art you create, and in our case I'm specifically focusing on writing, you're going to get advice…whether you want it or not.
I'm not saying that advice should be shunned, not by a long shot. Read books on the craft by all means. Read heavily in the genre you're exploring. Ask questions, get answers. But with the slew of information at our fingertips, with places like the Twitter Writing Community and vlogs and podcasts so close at hand, sometimes you may find that advice is more harmful than helpful.
"Renee, what do you mean? Shouldn't I take everything I can get in order to make my work shine?"
I haven't been on Twitter long. I started exploring the writing community there in earnest in 2018. And for every question I asked, or that I saw asked, there would be a slew of conflicting answers.
Should I write a prologue?
No, it's a book killer.
Yes, if it's done well.
How should my book start?
In the action.
No, build up the relationship with your reader slowly.
No, cut straight to the inciting incident.
Do I need an editor?
Yes, absolutely, don't bother publishing if you can't afford this critical step.
Or no, self-editing is totally fine, why waste money on someone who can never understand your story like you can?
Or no, just get some volunteers to check it over first.
Self-publishing vs. traditional, characters on covers, blurbs, book trailers, advertising, naming characters, self-promotion, writing everyday no matter what, adverbs, show vs. tell, passive voice…the list is endless. People have an opinion on everything, and it's right there. You don't even have to look. If you're part of a writing community…it'll find you.
As so often happens for me, a people pleaser by nature, I found myself soaking everything up, and it was agonizing. What was I really getting out of it? Conflict. Doubt. As if we need more of that as artists! Everything I did, all of it, suddenly became a source of anxiety. I loved my prologue, but how many people had I seen tearing them down, calling it sloppy writing? For any given element of a story, I guarantee there are a hundred (at least) threads of people warring over its merits.
It paralyzed me. For a long time I would sit down to write and I just couldn't. Because I had seen passionate, even angry, advice to the contrary dozens of times. I didn't know what to think or how to move ahead because I was so terrified knowing that no matter what I wrote, half the people out there would scoff, or look down their nose at it. What was the point? Sometimes I wish I'd never discovered that writing in today's society could be such a communal event. Sometimes I wish I'd stayed ignorant, content to just write what I wrote without asking or hearing from anyone about it during the process. But then I would miss out on so many insights and meaningful connections that I've made with my fellow writers. How could I balance my desire for community and my fear of disappointing so many people who felt so strongly about this, that, or the other thing?
Thankfully I was able to dig myself out of that dark mindset, but it definitely hit me hard, and I won't lie and say it doesn't still affect me on some level. But I'm finally at a place where I feel confident again. You don't like my prologue? That's fine, they aren't for everyone. Don't care for the slower pace? That's okay. Prefer books without characters on the covers? Mine won't appeal to you.
I am writing because I love to write. I have stories to tell, and I'm not going to let anything stop me. It's my passion and it fills me with joy. I let that be stolen from me, but I won't make the same mistake again. And neither should you.
We can all learn and grow from the opinions and advice of others. But that doesn't mean we have to agree with it, or that we should let it stop us from doing what we love. Take what you can use, discard the rest. Be open to learning, but don't take anything as gospel. For every person who will love your story—and there are people who will love your story!—there is someone else for whom it will fall utterly and completely flat. And that's okay! Books are not universally loved. Everyone has unique tastes, and that makes the world more beautiful and diverse.
Read what you love. Write what you love. Grow. Learn. Enjoy. Everything else? Take it with a grain of salt.
Your story, your art, is unique to you. It will never satisfy everyone. Understanding that is very freeing.
Advice can be wonderful, or overwhelming. Whether it was meant as an uplifting ideal or a scathing condemnation, it can be incredibly powerful. But the only one who can choose which side of the argument you will follow is you.
No one else can tell your story. Don't let anyone, any advice, any opinion, take that away from you.