On Prescriptive Writing Advice.

An ebook reader propped against a stack of books.

Serious writers write 2500 words a day. You will never make it if you don’t write at least six days a week. You’re wasting your time if you don’t outline using my patented method. Blah, blah, blah.

The truth of the matter is anyone who tells you that they can walk you through the process of writing a substantial work like a novel is just trying to sell you something. They can show you a way. That way might even sort of work for you. More than likely it won’t. Maybe after enough of this you’ll even start to believe you’re not cut out for writing.

That’s nonsense. What works for one person won’t always work for another. I’ve met writers who can’t write to an outline. My favorite example of this is a guy who followed the advice in How To Write a Damn Good Mystery to write out a full step sheet of the entire story complete with what was going on behind the scenes. He was writing a 6000 word short story, and by the end the victim was the protagonist, the protagonist wasn’t in the story, the killer was the savior and the an inconsequential character was the villian. Nothing that he planned except the setup stayed the same.

On the other hand, one of my first coaching clients would spend hours writing a few hundred words. He missed goals and deadlines left and right. He had bought in to the idea that writing from an outline made for crappy stories. He was a huge Stephen King fan so he wouldn’t budge for weeks. Finally, I convinced him to try an exercise. I gave him a prompt and asked him to jot down a summary of what a chapter written to that prompt would look like. When he finished I had him write it out. He wrote as many words in a single session as he had in the entire previous week.

I don’t mean to say you should ignore everyone’s advice. The problem with prescriptive advice is that it presents itself as fact. If you do these steps, you will have this outcome. Don’t fall for it. If something doesn’t work for you, if it makes you miserable, if it slows you down or stops you from writing, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t let anyone else dictate how you approach writing. Try things out, and do what works for you.

There are no absolutes out here. Not everyone wants the same thing. Not everyone writes for the same reasons. Not everyone’s brain works the same the same way. Have some respect for yourself and build your own method that ensures you can tell your own stories.

Whatever you do, just keep writing.