The One True Path to Writing Success?
(Image from Flickr by wendysoucie.)
Want to know the secret?
There is no one true path. There is no one right way.
Sure, some bestselling authors / writing tutors / self-proclaimed gurus might insist that their way is the way … but it isn’t.
If you’re a parent, you’ll know that there is a ton of contradictory advice out there. (Gina Ford vs attachment parenting, anyone?) There are also plenty of tips that your best friend might swear by, but which simply don’t work for you and your family.
The writing world is the same. Sometimes, experts completely disagree. Other times, their tips may not work at all for you – at best, they’re useless; at worst, they’re actively harmful.
During my time as a writer, I’ve come across a fair few dictums that really aren’t as great as some people would have you think:
Write 1,000 words every day.
I tried that one when I had a full-time day job (that I wasn’t enjoying) and it just made me miserable; I couldn’t keep it up for more than a couple of days at a time.
Write every day.
One of my MA tutors strongly recommended that we write for 20 minutes (more was fine!) daily. This really doesn’t suit how I like to work: I ignored her and carried on with having 2-3 hour sessions a couple of times a week.
Post on your blog every day, Monday to Friday.
This was very popular advice when I started out in blogging – but I’ve gradually seen more and more bloggers move away from this pattern. I debunked the idea in a guest post on ProBlogger here.
Write first thing in the morning.
This one has worked for me at times, but it’s far from the only way. My best fiction-writing time used to be around 8am – 11am; it’s now 2pm – 5pm.
Never self-publish –you won’t make any money.
Never traditionally publish – you’ll make much more money self-publishing.
Self-publishing is right for some writers, some goals, and some books. Traditional publishing is right for some writers, some goals, and some books. I’ve done both. Each has advantages and disadvantages – and you’ll find writers who feel very strongly about their chosen form of publication. You can watch a short video of me talking about both here, or read the transcript.
Once you get an agent, you’re set.
I’ve never had an agent (though I have had a traditional publishing deal, with Publishing E-Books For Dummies). I have friends with agents, and their books aren’t yet on the shelves. I’m sure their agents are doing a great job – but having an agent is no guarantee that your book will be published.
Don’t quit your day job.
I got out of my day job as soon as I realistically could, after saving up for six months, and with a small and steady stream of writing income. It wasn’t the greatest financial move – I should’ve hung on another six months and built my business further – but I was so much happier.
No writer – however experienced – can tell you exactly what’s right for you.
No piece of advice is worth following if it’s making your writing less enjoyable.
Learn from published authors and industry experts, by all means. Read books, take classes, go to conferences. Try out their tips and see what works for you.
But don’t ever force your writing to fit into someone else’s definition of what’s “right”.
Have you come across writing advice that simply doesn’t work for you? Share it – and your thoughts on it – in the comments.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
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I think the whole “adverbs are evil” advice is misguiding. Adverbs have their place in writing. Maybe it came from the abuse/overuse of unnecessary adverbs (he whispered softly) (she glared angrily), but it’s gotten out of hand. What you don’t hear much of is the importance of rhythm in a sentence, and a well-placed adverb can be a beautiful thing 😉
Great point, Elizabeth — I agree!
I’ve come across similar advice on forms of the word “to be” — rewrite any sentence that includes “was”, for instance — and it always seems incredibly prescriptive.
Yes, that too!
Elizabeth’s last blog post ..“So, What’s Your Book About?”
Wow, write 1,000 words per day? That’s something. Sometimes it’s even hard for me to write a 500-word when I have what they say “writer’s block”… Thanks for sharing this ideas.. Will try this out for sure. 🙂
Thanks Sue, and by all means give 1000 words a day a try … but only stick to it if it works for you and your writing. 🙂
Fantastic post, Ali! It’s so true that with the Internet and new blogs popping up every day there is SO much writing advice out there. I think it’s a good idea to try different things and find what works for you, but just because (insert famous author’s name here) does it, doesn’t mean it’s the one way to go.
Jessica Flory’s last blog post ..Where Can I Find an Agent? Is this Agent Right for Me?
Thanks, Jessica! There’s plenty of good, tried-and-tested advice … and plenty of sites quoting from big name authors. Of course, many authors have a wealth of great experience to share, but just because something works for them doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for everyone.
Hello, Ali. Very nice post. I agree that there’s no one formula (in spite of I’ve always looked for such thing like these), and, in the end, we must search for our own way. Read a lot, write a lot, like said Stephen King. Read and re-read, write and re-write, like said Stephen Vizinczey. Write everyday (I tried and it remains a dream to me, but since I’m in the “hibernating process” right now, and I’m resting my mind…).
And talking about good things, my short tale called “Coraçãozinho” (Lilttle Heart) was published in a e-book called 15 Contos + (15 Short Tales More) and everybody can download it for free. For those who understand Portuguese (or maybe Italian or Spanish), here’s the link:
from your brazilian friend,
Daniel Rocha’s last blog post ..Meu conto no Quinze Contos +
Congratulations on your short story publication, Daniel! And reading and writing a lot is probably as close to universally good advice as it gets… 🙂
As a person suffering from spells of depression from time to time I find it sometimes intimidating when somebody tells me “you have to write 1000 words a day if you hope to ever finish your book”, or “write from 6am to 10am, that’s your most creative phase”. Because of my health issues I just don’t ‘function’ like that most of the time. I’m thus very thankful that you wrote this blog post, Ali. I found out that I get the most done and achieve the most happiness and joy in what I’m doing when I write in my own time and at my own pace.
However, it is always motivating to read blogs from other writers and what works for them.
I agree with you, Andrea. Thanks for sharing with us. I feel bad with the times that I compare myself with others. And I feel depressed sometimes too…:)
and, like they say, keep moving forward…
Daniel Rocha’s last blog post ..Meu conto no Quinze Contos +
Andrea, I’m glad this helped you. Like you, I find it motivating to read about other writers’ working practices (or maybe I’m just nosy!) but I’ve found that I have to go with what’s right for me, and not get too hung up on what other people are doing.
I’ve taken some freelance course before I got my present job. That was some years ago. This present job is so routine, just writing formal letters and memos and technical reports that I completely lost my “creative spirit”. Thanks to your website and nowm that I’m about to retire, I’ll try that 1000 words.
Good luck, Violet! Hope you have a wonderful (and creative) retirement.