Is Your Story Delicious?
A lot of people have advice for new writers. Some of it is good advice, and some of it isn't, but it's not always easy to know which is which.
For example, when I first started writing picture books, I was told (repeatedly) by other writers to NEVER use illustration notes. For months I agonized over too-long manuscripts that told more than they showed, due in large part to my attempts not to use illustration notes. Now I know better (And if you'd like to learn more about correct usage of illustration notes, check out this article by Tara Lazar).
Sometimes you can recognize poor writing advice by its absolutist language: "NEVER do X!" or "You should ALWAYS do Y!" or "If you do Z then you're not a REAL WRITER!" I'm always wary of those who claim there is only one right way (i.e. their way) to be a writer.
But sometimes it's not that the advice is wrong, more that it's wrong for you.
In my novels, I'm a plotter. That's what works for me. I need the structure, otherwise I get lost in my manuscript. But other writers have a focus and keen sense of story direction that I lack: they don't need to plot to find the right path for their story-- they know the way like a migratory goose knows south. And that's what works for them. DO WHAT WORKS!
There are writing rules, of course: Recipes to follow to create a successful product. I love recipes. I have tons of them. But I also love to add a pinch of this or a splash of that to make a recipe my own. And occasionally I throw out the recipe and create something completely new!
"But, how do you know when it's okay to ignore the recipe?" you might ask. Innovation can create amazing things, or gross messes-- your taste-testers (i.e. critique partners and beta readers) can tell you if you're not sure which you've made. But that's all part of learning! And if we don't experiment in the kitchen, we never grow and develop our instincts as cooks. I think the same is true of writing.
There's a cafe near my house that makes giant, M&M cookies. While the edges are perfectly brown and crisp, the cookies always have under-baked cookie dough in the middle. The baker in me looks at these cookies and knows they are incorrect. But you know what? THEY'RE FREAKING DELICIOUS.
I've received a lot of extremely valuable writing advice on my journey thus far, from a variety of sources: fellow writers, famous authors, editors, agents, critique partners. It's important to be open to feedback so we can keep learning and growing as writers. But it's also important to listen to your gut, and that's a tough balance.
So the next time you receive writing advice-- whether it's from a famous author, a beta reader, or your Uncle Merv (who isn't a writer, but has lots of opinions about it), try asking yourself: "Does it make my story more delicious?"