Storytelling Art is a series about the kinds of storytelling methods I use and what kinds of material I use to make them. I also talk about my life as an author and what goes into my day to day life. Today, we’re talking about why most online writing advice is just plain terrible.
Storytelling Art: Why Most Online Writing Advice is Terrible
As a writer who wrote for fun the last ten years, I had to learn the proper process the hard way. Even now, there’s not much I understand about certain things. I’m always learning new things and I definitely take the feedback to heart. But there’s one thing during my time that I’ve noticed that is a little concerning and says a lot about most so-called “expert writers” out there. A lot of it is useless. And plenty of it is straight up bad.
Now I’m not saying all of it is. I’ve bookmarked a few guides that I’ve gotten use out of and will refer to from time to time, but holy cow. The amount of useless advice I’ve seen is astounding. So what do I mean by “useless advice?” I’m talking about advice that people give where it looks like a lot but says absolutely nothing about how to actually apply it to your work. To give an example, I’ll talk about a few articles.
I’ve spent some time looking up outlining and how to apply it to my story. One guide I looked up was how to construct an outline, but all it did was mention not constructing an outline, but what goes into a story. You know, conflict, main characters, setting, theme. That’s not outlining, every story has those and most authors know of those subjects. But, not a single line tells me how to even construct an outline, nor is it even about outlining in general. Perhaps the article thought it was focusing on a different topic.
Articles on description is another thing. Even now, I’ve kind of pushed on with my own thing, because I still don’t understand how it works. No article I’ve ever found was good advice. I mean, I have gotten better with it, but even then, the amount of information I tried to look up was impossible.
Another thing that I never see in fiction books is how to go about editing. Sure there are books on self-editing (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is one good example), but most of it is checklists on what to look for. That’s all well and good, but what about the process? What do I start with first? Plot or structure. I mean, the general consensus seems to be plot and then structure, and there are good articles on the process of editing, but I don’t necessarily want a checklist, but how to go about actually editing.
I think the general problem is that everyone thinks their method is the right one, that there’s only one single method for fiction. To me, that’s not how it works. The opposite point to that is that this might be why some advice is useless. A lot of this, you just have to figure out yourself. Some direction would be nice, though.
Another possibility is that a lot of “experts” out there simply want to make writing some sort of exclusive club for the talented. That only those who are truly good writers will be able to understand any of it. But even then, I doubt I’ll ever be within the leagues of, say, John Steinbeck or Stephen King (Although that would be epic in more ways than one), but still, not everyone is going to be in this “club” and it would make more sense to get fresh new members in so that the later generations could get their “greats.” It happens in more than just writing, artistry is a humongous offender (seriously, try finding drawing lessons where the author assumes you don’t know how to draw. I can think of maybe two or three off the top of my head).
So why is there so much bad writing advice? Usually, the excuse is that a lot of it is too abstract to even figure out, like description. I mean, how exactly would you describe when each individual has a unique writing style and voice. Perhaps that’s what I wasn’t getting that it’s not description, but voice. Either way, it would have been nice to know beforehand.
So is there good writing advice? Well, if you dig around the internet hard enough like a miner digging for gold, then yes, there is. In fact, to showcase this, I’ll link a few great examples and talk about why I picked them.
Now, a lot of my recommended stuff is in the resources section of my website, but this is a little extra.
The above link goes to SFWA’s page on how to revise fiction. I feel that even if you’re not into Spec Fic stories, this site has some good guides for how to write and what goes into being an author. It details exactly what the process is and what to look for when editing. It’s short, but it has a lot of detail in it.
In fact, most of SFWA’s articles on writing are worth looking into. Someday, I’ll be part of that group, but I have to keep at it if I want to be among their ranks.
Chuck Wendig’s blog has a series of humorous and witty how-to guides. This one goes through various process of how to outline, which is what I tend to look for in a how-to-outline guide and not give me a rough idea of what goes into it. It has the how, and always the what and why. It’s what writing guides should do.
The blog contains foul language, so word of warning if you go peeking in there.
This is from Strange Horizons magazine and it lists a series of stories they see too often. Basically, I go to this to see if any of my ideas would most likely get rejected there. It’s a long list and isn’t the be-all-end-all of cliche guides, but for me, it’s a general idea of what I should look out for and I look back at it often.
If you want a wonderful, all in one site for writing tips, then Novel Writing Help is a wonderful resource. It almost makes traditional how-to books superfluous (though I do recommend a few alongside this, for perspective reasons). It’s somewhat a foundation for a while, but recently, it’s getting an overhaul. As far as the guides go, it’s a great resource and I might add it to my resources page.
So those are only a handful of examples of resources I’d go to. There can be good writing guides out there if you know where to look (and if you dig deep enough into the filth of useless advice from so-called “pros”). But mostly, I just want help on how to write and I always want to improve. I do feel more confident in my own abilities, but there’s always room to improve, even if I do get published.
But Internet, please get some good advice up there. The world will thank you for it.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.