writing & publishing

On the lack of advice

Going back to the wisdom of Nick Mamatas, something else lingered in my mind:

Even writers—especially the newer ones who give advice so freely—like to fall back on something they’re already good at when giving advice.

Reading Nick’s post was rather liberating. When I got my book deal, a few years ago, I started with the advice. I’m as guilty as those new writers Nick pointed out in his post. There’s some strange psychology about getting a book deal where you suddenly become an expert. Maybe not so much an expert, but people want to know your story of success, and you feel the temptation to share your secrets, and before you know it, down the line, you’re on the social media merry-go-round.

There’s an old analogy about Britain and the European Union, that it’s better to be on the train pissing out, than running alongside on the platform trying to piss in – and sometimes I feel that’s what blogging about publishing and writing is like. There’s this perception you’re better off sharing advice and talking about writing, or the publishing process, in order to increase your profile – that it’s the bare minimum to survive.

But the more books I write, the less I feel inclined to talk about the writing process. If I have something to say about the subject, I like to think I’ll try to say it in my books and see if it works. If not, I’ll fail better the next time. Maybe it’s a rite of passage, I don’t know, and I certainly don’t want to give the impression I’m strictly against people giving advice. There is a strange perception that publishing is a bit like the Freemasons, and I can understand why people seek out expertise to help them with their own writing.

Instead I tend to think there’s more inspiration to be found in a profoundly moving piece of art than yet another article about worldbuilding or writing battle scenes. Which isn’t to say I won’t say anything about the process in future, of course, but that for now it just doesn’t feel right for me to do so.

And doesn’t it feel better, in your own writing, to try and capture something that can’t be fired out in a blog post?

Or is this all still writing advice?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

5 replies on “On the lack of advice”

I would like to think so, Paul. I think in general I’d be more interested in reading many more blogs if they were more subtly inspirational – but I’m probably not their main audience to be fair! 

Writing about writing from writers isn’t a ‘bad’ thing but I’m glad you talk about whisky and the allotment instead. Partly, I see it as sharing in the hope that you have something to refer back to later, even if you never do, and partly to help out others.

Plus, it’s a safe topic that people like that probably won’t alienate people unless you start talking about how your books focus on virtus…

I’m glad this got reposted on Twitter because I totally agree. Having only recently been on the unpublished-trying-to-break-in side of the fence, I’ve read a lot of advice posts by people who I suspect know less about the subject than I do, and far fewer from established authors. However, I’ve never written a post about writing, even to increase my profile, as I felt it to be presumptuous.

You’re right. For the perceptive, there is more insight to be gained from a creative work than from yet another dry blog post. I certainly don’t deny the value of writing advice, especially for those just starting out, but it’s a thriving trend these days and not all of it is sound.

Also, nice analogy.

Thanks, Lucy. I wonder if many more established writers – or at least those who have something to say – have managed to work it into a creative writing course, or something more committed than casual bloggery.

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