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[process] The worst writing advice I ever got - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-12-20 05:17
Subject: [process] The worst writing advice I ever got
Security: Public
Tags:books, grief, personal, process, writing
I've been thinking about life lately, for obvious reasons. Life, and illness, and the changes that come upon us all. I've also been writing a lot lately. The fascinating thing to me is how much of those deep and difficult thoughts emerge in my fiction. Filtered through the machinery of my subconscious (hi, Fred!) and then again through the lens of the story.

The worst writing advice I ever received, years before I grew good enough to be published, was "Writing is not therapy." I have come to believe this is very nearly opposite the truth. I think what the advice-giver meant was "don't write thinly disguised romans-a-clef about your emo bullshit", but even that isn't really true. For one thing, that is an unkind but accurate description of The Specific Gravity of Grief, which I think is a story that succeeds precisely because of the raw emotion I poured into it. As a result of that advice, I was left for a very long time with a vision of the craft of fiction as somehow being a noble pursuit separate from the grubby realities of my own life.

Yet good fiction must work at the emotional level first and foremost. Badly plotted, poorly characterized, ineptly-written fiction can succeed because of emotional appeal. Brilliantly wrought prose can fail because of a lack of emotion. We've all seen examples of both. It is our own strongest emotions that force the power into those words on the page. Not our control of them.

To me, the process is inseparable from my own experiences. At this point, I wouldn't have it any other way.

(And on a related note, yesterday I had cause to remark to a friend anent my execrable poetry that my prose is often poetic, but my poetry is always prosaic. Speaking of emotional vehicles.)

What's the worst writing advice you ever got?

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Sherwood Smith
User: sartorias
Date: 2010-12-20 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Don't write that airy-fairy nonsense, write about Real Life."
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Jodi Davis
User: jodi_davis
Date: 2010-12-20 21:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
AH-HA! I've gotten that a lot... "Why don't you right about stuff people like to read!"
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2010-12-20 14:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"You're no good at fiction, go into nonfiction instead."

If I'd not listened to that siren song and followed the lure of paying publication in nonfiction, I'd be further along in my fiction career....
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User: brownkitty
Date: 2010-12-20 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Where's your novel?" with the heavy implication that only novels "count."

My natural length seems to be flash or short story.
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selfavowedgeek: Monkeyboy
User: selfavowedgeek
Date: 2010-12-20 14:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Monkeyboy
re: "Yet good fiction must work at the emotional level first and foremost." Yeah, sympathy and empathy because, otherwise, without the emotional level, I'd just as soon read a crap-ton of technical manuals in my spare time. Write 'em, too.

Funny how that whole "Sing in me, O Muse, the anger of Achilles," just never quite panned out for Homer . . . ;)

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Terie Garrison
User: teriegarrison
Date: 2010-12-20 15:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
'On this MA in Creative Writing course, we're not interested in writers like Philip Pullman.' (Spoken the week before Pullman won the Whitbread Book Prize for THE AMBER SPYGLASS.)

I didn't take this advice. I dropped out of the course instead. Oh, and since then, I've had five books published whereas the folks who told me that...have had none published between them. 'Nuf said.
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Renfield
User: cuddlycthulhu
Date: 2010-12-20 15:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The worst advice I was ever given about writing was to stop.
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Fluttering Things: growth industry
User: moxie_raqs
Date: 2010-12-20 19:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:growth industry
Seconded.
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2010-12-20 16:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've been coming to a similar conclusion, and I think it's why I'm failing to progress as a writer - I don't put my emtional self into my writing.

Unfortunately, there is a strong case to be made that I am just not a remotely emotional personal - not sociopath-level, but I seem to be too reserved/dispassionate/just plain calm to be an emotional writer.
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The NewroticGirl
User: newroticgirl
Date: 2010-12-20 17:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This one's easy!

"Nobody in this room is ever going to get published, so don't bother."

Said by the creative writing prof-in-residence during my senior year of college. I'm glad to have proved him wrong. :)
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melissima: Watch Me
User: melissima
Date: 2010-12-20 20:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Watch Me
seconded.
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coppervale
User: coppervale
Date: 2010-12-20 17:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Don't bother trying to illustrate your book, and stop asking publishers if you can draw the cover. No one cares about that pen and ink crap anymore."

Made sure to send that agent a copy of the notice that the cover for HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS got a Gold medal at the New York Book Awards.
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User: eljaydaly
Date: 2010-12-20 17:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Show, don't tell."
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Julie
User: quaero_verum
Date: 2010-12-22 18:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
May I respectfully inquire as to why you feel this is bad advice..?

I tend to view writing that reveals plot and emotions through the voices and actions of the characters rather than omniscient narrative as being much more interesting and rich.

Perhaps you mean something different?
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2010-12-20 17:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"You have to listen to criticism," (which, in the context of the conversation, meant: "you have to write the story I thought you were starting out to write when I picked up the ms."

Sooner or later you figure out which workshop members are going to be useful assistants in you telling your story and which ones are only interested in what they would do.
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Debi
User: wheelwithin
Date: 2010-12-20 19:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Write what you know," must be high up there. Obviously they have it backward.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-12-20 19:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In regards to sprawling stories, most novellas definitely fall in that category as well, methinks. And some of the finest fiction out there, at least in our field, is novella length.
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zellandyne: bitchslap
User: zellandyne
Date: 2010-12-20 19:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bitchslap
"You need to backdrop this story against a historical event. Set it against the Kennedy assassination! Be the voice of your generation*!" and, a minute or so later "Your audience doesn't care about people. They only care about issues!"


*I'd like to note, I was born 15 years after Kennedy died.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2010-12-20 20:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There have been a handful of hard times in my life where writing was the only thing that got me through; I can't imagine what the journey through those might have been like otherwise.

The worst writing advice I ever got was the old standard, "You'll never make any money at it". Nowadays I just reply something along the lines of that I've made more money at it than if I'd just been watching TV instead. Explaining that money wasn't / isn't the point would be lost on folks who've said this to me.
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