Advice: best taken with a pinch of salt

Never write, or edit, drunk. Great advice given by the guys at Curtis Brown.

Write drunk, edit sober. A quote often attributed to one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century; Hemingway.

Or follow in Coleridge’s footsteps: take a dose of laudanum and write about your dreams. Hmmm, maybe not that last one but you can see how difficult it can be to take any advice about writing at face value, because so much of it is conflicting.

When I started writing this novel of mine, I made the mistake of looking online at advice on how to write a novel and I very nearly gave up. None of the advice seemed to work for me. I was almost universally advised to plan my plot carefully before I begin, to character map, research everything and write detailed aims for what I hoped to achieve in each chapter. Ever heard of a chapter spreadsheet*? Me neither, until I started looking for advice.

You see, I don’t plan. Not at first anyway. Every story I have ever written, from this novel to (oh dear God, I can’t believe I’m about the admit this) the horrendous tripe of a historical-gothic-romance I wrote when I was fifteen, began as a single scene and develop from there. I don’t plan, I don’t have an end goal or a finale, I certainly don’t know ‘who done it’ before I begin to write. So, reading all these article and blogs earnestly advising me to plan as much as possible before I began really took the wind out of me.

Until I read an interview with Minette Walters from the ‘90s.  I am a big fan of Walters, she’s a brilliant writer, but what really made me leap for joy was the fact that she doesn’t plan. SHE DOESN’T PLAN!!! I never thought such a simple statement could make me so happy because, hey, if she can write great thrillers without having a detailed plan at the start, then maybe I can to!

Since then I have taken all advice with a pinch of salt. Do you have to write every day? I do, but you may not. Do you have to read swathes of your chosen genre? Again, yes for me but it may be different for the million other writers out there. The only thing I know for certain is this: don’t let well meaning advice get in your way, bring you down or, heaven forbid, make you give up.

*And I am now the proud owner of a chapter spreadsheet. It’s been a great tool during the editing process, but I don’t think I could ever have created it before the first draft was written.


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