Tuesday, March 14, 2023

It was the best Advice, the worst Advice by Gabriel Valjan


What is the best advice you received from an agent, editor, publisher, writer, or florist? For bonus credit what was the worst?


Prescriptive advice is like One-Size-Fits-All clothing. It’s generic and safe. I’m not a fan of How-To books because I prefer to teach myself the What and Why I like someone’s writing and analyze How it works for me. I’ve also not had any luck with agents, so the advice that I’ve received has been haphazard and varied.

I’m a literary delinquent. I dislike monolithic THOU SHALT NOT statements. I do, however, believe it is foolish to ignore the expectations that accompany genre. Crime fiction needs a crime; romance, a relationship hoped for, or frustrated, etc. Once you know the Rules, it’s fun to test them.  

I feel most alive when I write, so there’s an indescribable joy that comes with the translation from what is inside my head onto the page. Nonetheless, I have heard or received unsolicited advice. Sarcasm Mode is ON.



Don’t chase trends. Like bell-bottoms and other fashion trends, there are fads that have their season in the sun. They live, die, and return, not unlike vampires, dystopias, and the PI who has a drinking problem, yet is stupendous in bed and can take a licking (fights meant here, not sex).

Beginnings matter. The pressure to connect with readers hard and fast is real. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘There are no second acts in American lives.’ First impressions matter, but there is no pleasing everyone. Some readers permit you one chapter, while others are your ex disguised as a judge for the Olympics who doesn’t want to see you stick the landing. It’s easier to criticize than create—and lest we forget, writers are notorious for both Inner Critic and Imposter Syndrome, so why beat yourself up when others will do it with glee. Do the best you can at where you are as a writer.

In medias res. Latin for ‘in the middle of things,’ in medias res is another way of saying Beginnings Matter. Throw the reader sans lifejacket into the deep end.

Sink or swim, mon lecteur.

            It’s sound advice, except when there is no context for what is on the page. There’s no romance and no foreplay. It’s great and memorable when done well; not so much when it isn’t. In medias res should address some or all of the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and like the vowel, sometimes Why.

            I like ‘in medias res’, but not when the advisor gets the Latin wrong and writes ‘in media res.’

Kill your darlings. I think Faulkner’s counsel meant not to fall in love with your writing at the reader’s expense. Delete or edit anything that doesn’t move the story forward. I’m a ruthless editor and I’ll cull the herd, but it doesn’t mean I’m not humane. I take what I have removed and place it in a shelter, where it’ll be adopted and placed in another story.

Where this advice doesn’t work for me is when you need to give your reader time to think about what has happened.  It’s not a call for filler, but an opportunity for jazz, to alter the rhythms of pacing and plot and offer insights into your characters and their world.

Let it go. By far the best advice I’ve received on craft. I cringe at what I wrote ten years ago, but that’s a good thing. I have either learned from my mistakes or honed techniques and narrative strategies. I’m not that guy who churns out formula, which might be safe, monetarily successful, but ultimately is bland as cornflakes. There is something to be said for growth, for sweat equity, and for Trial and Error.



Listen and observe. Be slow to anger and speak with respect. This was life advice, given to me by an unlikely source. I apply it to social media, and it’s how I conduct myself in the writing community.

Social media is a cesspool. It’s a mashup of both Big Brother and Gilead. The court of public opinion is swift to cancel people, with little or no justification. Trolls exist. There are attention seekers. Anonymity makes keyboard warriors of them all. Don’t hand them the gun and the ammo.

The heart of this particular advice is that you’re accountable, 24/7/365. What you say on the internet lives forever. Writers watch, as do agents and publishers. Behave in a way that you don’t have to fear walking into a room with someone behind you.



You need to have something published every month. Context: Since I was first published in 2012, I’ve written two novels a year. I have not submitted all of them for publication because I’m particular about what I put out in the world. The advice here meant that I would not enjoy success (in this case, financial) because I’m not constantly in front of readers.

            I’ll leave that one on the back burner.




James W. Ziskin said...

Excellent column, Gabriel. I love your approach to considering advice, especially on killing your darlings. Or not.

“It’s not a call for filler, but an opportunity for jazz, to alter the rhythms of pacing and plot and offer insights into your characters and their world.”


Gabriel Valjan said...

Thank you, Jim. I think we all have to weigh any and all advice, or we'd go crazy.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You made some excellent points, Gabriel. I couldn't agree more. Well said.

Gabriel Valjan said...

Thank you, Dietrich. We have to find our way and learn works for us. Thanks for stopping by today.

Susan C Shea said...

The difference between a writer and someone who believes she or he could write if they just had the time is all of this, plus my advice from Monday, plus all the advice of writers who actually slog it out! We may not agree on what advice to follow, but that's because we've been in the room day after day, doing the work.

Gabriel Valjan said...

I agree, Susan, and thanks for reading.

Catriona McPherson said...

Happy book birthday, Gabriel. Thank you for A. this excellent post and B. Letting Liar's Dice out into the wild. Cx

Gabriel Valjan said...

Thank you, Catriona, and for mentioning Liar's Dice.

Josh Stallings said...

You are a very very smart guy. In the best of ways. and "Let it go." is so important. I always like the book Im working on more than the last.