Thursday, October 19, 2017

29 Reasons Why Lists Should Never Be Longer Than 15.

"There is a large number of online writing advice sites. Do you now or have you ever used any of them? Which and why?" by Catriona 

Well, now. Not really. I'm a bit wary of free websites and the advice therein. Whether it's that thing on my leg that might have been a spider bite (it wasn't) or that chapter in the middle of the book that felt soggy (I rewrote it), it doesn't feel sensible to prise open the maw at the top of the pit of clattering madness and pitch myself in.

And as for sites behind a paywall . . . hmmmmmm. If someone is trying to make money selling writing advice, chances are s/he can't rely on writing itself for an income. And then we're in the territory of whether to trust a dentist with blood in his hair, aren't we?

I think the internet is great for bold-stroke tips that help with low-stakes problems. Getting the seeds out of a pomegranate, folding a fitted sheet, packing a carry-on bag with clothes for a month . . . that kind of thing. But, as a rule, the more certain someone sounds about writing advice the less safe it is to listen. (I sound quite sure about that, eh? Which means you should ignore me. Only now I sound less sure, so it would make a good forehead tattoo. Argh.)

Seriously, though, whenever I find myself teaching a writing class I kick off by saying if everything is going well people should ignore me and scroll through their texts until break-time. But if they're having a problem, then they could maybe listen and then only if what I'm saying seems sensible and/or fun they could maybe give it a whirl. I'm surprised no one's ever asked for a refund, to be honest with you.

There are exceptions around the fringes of actual writing. When I was starting out, looking for an agent, the internet was in its infancy. (Bottle of Evian? Eeh, we didn't have water when I were a nipper. We had hydrogen and oxygen and we made our own.) But these days, you can't do better than Janet Reid's Query Shark, if you're at that stage of the game.

But what about craft? Character development, pacing, language choices? I'd recommend reading good books and seeing how it's done. You could read the odd bad book to throw the good ones into sharper relief. Then, with enough long walks, solitude, sitting on the beach listening to the waves crash, staring out of a window at a leaf about to fall etc etc, some of the juice from the good books (and the grit from the bad books) will get into the bit of your brain that you use for writing.

It's not the bit of your brain that you use for compiling or consuming tip-lists for fitted sheets and pomegranates.  How could it be?

And also, this:


Ann said...

You know, Catriona, I thinking that reading you each day is better than Prozac. You are the funniest person I know.
Your stalker

Susan C Shea said...

" And then we're in the territory of whether to trust a dentist with blood in his hair, aren't we?"

Now that you mention it.....I agree that it helps to have a degree of skepticism about these online resources, but with the caveat that somewhere in all the dross a shining tidbit is hiding for that person who might just see it sparkle. Not worth a lot of time and anxiety, but with Cationa's tasy warnings, a beginning writer could forage a bit. Like you, I prefer books - both the great ones for writing and a few of the excellent ones for teaching writing.

Two months in the UK and your Scottish is forward!

Susan C Shea said...

"Catriona's tasty..." but you knew that.

Kathy Reel said...

You crack me up, Catriona!!!