We used to play a game at my house called Best Part of the Day (I know. We’re brilliant with titles, aren’t we?). It was where everyone went around the table and shared the best part of their day. Sometimes, the kids would share the worst part of their days too. It was a way we learned a little about each other. We also learned a lot about the world around us because it usually inspired conversations that required explanation.
At a recent conference I spoke at, I was also on a panel with several other authors and one of the attendees asked, “What is the best advice you’ve ever received as an author?”
It was surprising what the responses were from each of the authors on the panel. Much like my children, the best meant something entirely different for each unique person.
For me, the best writing advice ever given in my life came from a small meeting after class with my seventh grade English teacher. The advice actually came from myself, but Mrs. Brown had fished around for it until it came out. I was entering a contest and showing her my entry. She asked me, “What will you do if you don’t win?”
It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t win. OF COURSE I would win, because I was brilliant. But I stood there shifting from foot to foot and searching myself for the answer to that question. Finally I said, “I guess I’ll keep writing.”
She exhaled in relief and said, “Good girl. I was hoping you’d say that.”
To keep writing no matter what was my best advice. To keep writing even when I took second place. To keep writing when I didn’t place at all. To keep writing when I had nothing worthy to write about. To just keep writing.
The other authors had things like:
- Don’t wait until you find time, because you never will.
- Don’t get arrogant when you finally get published, because someone else will always be there, outselling you and outwriting you.
- Stop talking about it; just sit your butt in the chair and just get it done.
The question naturally led to another question, “What is the worst advice you’ve ever been given?”
The answers were again all different. For me, the worst advice came from a speaker at a conference. The speaker had started out arrogant and obnoxious, and I partly wonder if everything he said grated on me because his attitude was so prickly, but he said something that felt untrue for me–though it might have been someone else’s best advice . . . who knows.
He said, “Forget the audience. You’re writing for yourself, and yourself alone. The audience means nothing to you.”
Um, okay, unless you’re trying to SELL to an audience. For me, his advice didn’t work. I wrote to an audience–myself being part of that audience. All the humor, all the sentimental stuff, the age range . . . I target it to the audience I’m writing for. For me that works. It might not for someone else. Like I said, my worst advice might be someone else’s best.
Other authors’ bad advice consisted of:
- The NEVER and ALWAYS rules. They said to avoid people with absolutes in their advice.
- Beginning writers should start out writing poetry and short stories before they dare attempt a novel length work.
- Any advice that makes you feel bad about yourself or less worthy is bad advice.
Whenever we do anything in our lives, there are voices out in the crowd throwing in their opinions on how we should manage ourselves. Some are well meaning; others are resentful. Some are excited for our futures; others could not care less but like to have something to say anyway.
The point is to be careful who we listen to. Take the advice that works for you and let the rest go.
What’s the best and worst advice you guys have received?