Random Thoughts: In Which I Take Issue With Some Commonly Trotted Out Advice

Yeah, so sometimes I think I’m out of stuff to say about writing. When I keep hearing the line from Ani DiFranco’s Outta Me, Onto You going through my head, “You know there isn’t much I have to say, I would rather just shut up and do…” it usually means its time to ignore everything except working on the next project. I often feel that everything that can be said about writing has already been said about a bajillion times by other folks. But then I start to see some of the same old sayings floating around and it turns out that some of those things either need to be repeated or argued against.

I think the people giving the advice mean well but that it can fall short of being useful. I don’t think that when folks dispense writing advice that the intention is to steer new writers in a bad direction, but who knows. A lot of these are phrases that only have useful meaning after you’ve been doing this for a while.

That said, I have a big problem with the idea that if someone isn’t upset by your writing then you aren’t doing your job. It lends itself to the message that all writing is necessarily antagonistic and that antagonism should be the goal. I also don’t think that the level of anger in your readers is good barometer for your work. While it is true that anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, that is created by an artist and then comes into contact with the public has the potential to cause drama, discomfort and in some cases, rage, I don’t think antagonism is the point of writing. It can be for some. I think it is essential for certain kinds of expression (punk comes to mind) but with fiction I think writers can get lost in writing with the express purpose of being antagonistic. If that’s your voice as an author, then great, but I think maybe telling everyone that their work must be intentionally fight-inducing or it has no value is kind of a crappy thing to do. Particularly for new writers who haven’t figured out what they want to achieve with their writing yet.

The same is true about shock-value but I’ve also seen advice moving in the opposite direction, that to me seems equally bad. The old, “You shouldn’t write just for shock value,” bull.


Here’s the thing. Some authors will be interested in writing about subjects that are shocking. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. WE ALL GET TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS. Sometimes the work might be shocking or antagonistic. All of it is fine. But my point is that neither shock value nor antagonism is the measure of a good work. The measure, for the artist, should be whether or not your finished draft told a good story and accomplished what you set out to do. But advising people to write in order to make certain that they do shock or don’t shock an audience seems crazy to me. It is also something that is based on taste, and everyone knows that taste is arbitrary. Some folks like to read shocking, antagonistic work. Some like to steer clear of things that make them uncomfortable. That’s for the reader to decide. The reader doesn’t get to decide that about your work until it is finished and available for reading. (Also need to point out that what is shocking to one person barely registers on the freak-out radar for others.)

My answering advice is write what interests you regardless of its level of antagonism or shock value.

I could keep poking at that one, but I think that when you receive free advice from any source, think it through before you pick it up and run with it.

What about everyone out there in the blogosphere? What’s some writing advice that rubs you the wrong way?



2 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: In Which I Take Issue With Some Commonly Trotted Out Advice

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