"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Should you follow advice?

A lot of advice about writing - especially online advice - is assertive, emphatic and down right dogmatic. 
     8 ways to become a bestselling author
    The 7 secrets of writing a blockbuster 
    The 6 mistakes that guarantee a rejection letter
    no matter how great your manuscript

Quick-fix solutions appeal and those kind of headlines are not confined to blogs and websites devoted to creative writing and publishing. They have  become almost the standard for giving advice on the internet:
5 ways to get rid of acne permanently 
The 12 rules for successful potty training
Some of the information given under those titles can be sound and sensible: worth reading and worth following. Some of the information is so vacuous and wordy - saying the same thing is three different ways in a faux down-to-earth, next best friend style - that you know  the author has to have an agenda other than informing...
And they do. 
It's all about attracting surfers to the site. End of.
We read 25% slower on screen than we do from the page so instantly understandable titles are going to be clicked. Ones that also make promises are going to get more clicks. 
American writer Jane Friedman argues that kind of attitude also seeps into the advice on offer. Click on the the title to read what she has to say in full but here's a taster.
Writing a great blog post or developing a successful online presence is often about knowing how to attract attention, or be bombastic in a charming way. Talking about the gray areas within an issue—parsing through all the intricacies—isn’t known for generating traffic. Boldness is.
So here I am in praise of the grey (or gray). I'm not against eye catching headlines - that's what we all want - but I am against the notion that there is a formulaic answer to anything outside chemistry (ok, and physics and perhaps even an ology or two that I haven't quite mastered). Or that there's secret information out there in a Dan Brown kind of way and once you acquire the insider knowledge everything is going to be just fine and dandy.

Here are the two best bits of advice I have ever come across.
On writing itself
There are only two ways to learn: the first is to write and the second is to read
(Ok, numbers again but this time it turns the convention on its head.) 
On being a writer (but it applies to anything)
If you do something - something happens


Anonymous said...

Interested about advice... Thank for the tips...

Eliza said...

Great advice Bridget and the only advice would-be writers will ever need.... just do it. I just wish I wasn't so lazy! :(