From Jane Friedman:
There’s an endless supply of advice for writers. But when you come across this oversupply of often contradictory information, how are you to parse it and figure out which advice fits you—your story, your personality, your skills, and your writing style?
The process is surprisingly similar to figuring out which clothes work for your body and lifestyle. The best way to know if something fits is to try it on—just like you would try on a pair of jeans at Target. Because just like jeans, writing advice is never one size fits all.
Here are five things to do when trying on and evaluating the fit of writing advice.
1. Check your closet—what do you need?
Just like with clothes, you don’t want to waste your time or money on pieces you don’t need. When you jump to try every piece of writing advice or new writing tool you come across, you will likely end up spending all of your time doing that instead of writing.
If you already have a jacket that is in good shape and keeps you warm and works for your climate, you wouldn’t go buy a new $400 coat just because somebody said it was the best jacket they’d ever worn. The same goes for writing. If you already have an outlining method that works for you, why spend time learning different outlining methods? You don’t need them.
So, before you try out any writing advice, first think about your current writing life. What problems do you need to solve or hurdles do you need to get over? What are you struggling to get right on the page? What’s blocking your progress toward your writing goals? If the advice doesn’t aim to solve a problem you already have, ignore it for now.
2. Gut check: are you interested in this tool or piece of advice?
Just like when choosing clothes, we often have a visceral reaction to writing advice. When you first see it, how does your mind or body react? If you are immediately intrigued and picturing yourself in that sweater, great. Grab it off the rack and add it to your fitting room to try on. If you come across a writing method that turns on a lightbulb in your brain, get ready to try it out.
But if you immediately feel yucky when you come across it, it’s probably not for you. That gut reaction is often a solid judge.
However, if what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, take a pause and consider why this new advice feels gross to you: Is it because you’ve tried it before and had a bad experience? Or is it making you uncomfortable because it’s so different from anything you’ve tried before, maybe even the opposite of what you’ve been taught?
Your gut feeling is important, but sometimes it’s worth considering new ideas, especially if the old ones aren’t working anymore. Listen to your gut but be willing to ruminate. Trying something that at first seems strange might be worth a shot.
3. Try it out.
You can’t tell if clothes fit your body unless you try them on. Writing advice is the same. Once you find something that seems like it might solve a problem and appears like it might fit, you must try it out. You can try it once or a bunch of times over a few days or weeks. See how it feels. Does it feel empowering or constricting? Does it feel authentic or forced? Does it inspire or bore? Is it moving you toward your writing goals or holding you back?
The key to trying things on is to truly try them and, if possible, try a few similar items so you can compare. Don’t just read the book or watch the webinar. If you need help planning your story or figuring out if it has narrative drive, make a Save the Cat outline and an Inside Outline. If you need help getting the words on the page without getting distracted, do some solo Pomodoro sprints and attend a writing group that does writing sprints together.
It might feel like too much time to spend when you just want to get an answer or a tool and move forward, but like grabbing the first pair of pants you see when you walk in the store and not comparing it with another size or style usually means you end up with a pair that you’re not 100% sure about. The first piece of writing advice you hear doesn’t always work out.
Link to the rest at Jane Friedman