It is a truism that a wise person is someone who seeks out the advice of others. This holds true for many areas but particularly in writing. Writing is a complicated venture and for the most part each writer has to undertake the journey alone. I have identified three layers of writing advice, each with its own focus and each with its own objectives.
- Drafting Advice. This is the nitty gritty of writing. The grindstone upon which the writer has to submit. In my mind this is the lowest, but most crucial, area of writing. It is the wide foundation that is based mostly in the world of simply conveying the ideas through words. A lot of this type of advice is accomplished in a composition course. The Elements of Style, and pretty much any grammar book, will teach you the rules and rhythms of the English language. But reading a lot of fiction will subconsciously teach you the subtle and interwoven tricks of writing effectively and evocatively. Whether it is in corporate memos or urban fantasy novellas, having a grasp on the rhythm of language goes into every form of writing.
- Craft of Storytelling Advice. As we enter the second layer of writing advice, the pyramid narrows and the advice becomes more cerebral. Say goodbye to your muggle friends, this is only the place for creative writers. As the muggles leave the self proclaimed “artists” arrive. That is the first advice I have to give, there is a lot of writing advice that is more pseudo-philosophical than really any practical help. I would be the last to deny that writing is an art form, but to mystify the process of writing is not the way to help a struggling writer get better at their craft. Telling a writer that what they do is equivalent to Homer and Virgil is not very practical or helpful in any way. So my advice is to be to be picky when it comes to books on writing advice. If a book does not immediately speak to you and your concerns in a practical and substantive way then drop it and move on. Some great books that I have read on the craft of writing are The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (although it is directed at screenwriting the advice is applicable to prose writing), and Plot by Ansen Dibell,.
- Motivation Advice. The third layer of advice, and the one that to me forms the peak of the pyramid, is about motivation and lifestyle. Creative writing is a very arduous undertaking. The only people that think writing is easy or fluff work are people that don’t write. When people do “serious work” they do not consistently bleed their emotions onto a blank slate. That is only where the fluff work begins, because the next step is to beat the living hell out of your own creation as you revise your work. Writing actually takes a lot more courage than most people would believe. Also this is the layer of advice that is most susceptible to the armchair guru. We have entered into true self-help territory so keep your wits about you. But two great books that motivate me to write (when I could be doing a lot of easier things) are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (this book covers all layers respectively and is a must read for all creative writers).