Writing Advice – Take it or Toss it?

Every year, I spend four days in New York with the best of the best in the thriller game. This year was my eighth Thrillerfest conference, and once again, it was illuminating, informative, and inspirational. The hardest decision to make during those action-packed days is what sessions to take when all the options are equally compelling.

I believe that continuous improvement, as much as, prolificacy, is essential in any craft. That’s the reason many come to Thrillerfest (in addition to the wonderful networking opportunities which is another topic altogether). And while there is a lot to be learned, the trick is in culling the often-conflicting advice, and finding those nuggets that will help you to unleash your individual voice. We’ve all heard the list of “rules”, most of which are excellent guidelines for good fiction. More important, though, is to understand your story, your characters, and your point of view. Only then do you know when breaking the rules is the only way your story can be told. For every admonition, there is a successful exception.

As I listen to the many different opinions on writing, in the background, I hear my mother’s voice saying, Take it with a grain of salt, and I do. When something resonates with me, I recognize it immediately. Other times, it doesn’t ring true. I am lucky to have had amazing editors whose suggestions I trust, and they have made all the difference in my finished books. If you’re not at a place in your career where you have a professional editor, my advice is to find a trusted mentor or freelance editor to work with.

The best advice I’ve received is to be authentic: to look at what I’ve written and honestly answer whether it was written to impress or to move the story forward. Have I allowed my characters to speak, or have I drowned them out with my own voice? And finally, did I choose the story, or did it choose me? Good writing is not achieved by applying a set of objective metrics. If I want my writing to move others, it must move me first. That takes guts and humility, but the results are well worth it. So the next time you receive writing advice—analyze it and decide whether or not it’s the right advice for you.

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