Best and Worst Advice for Writers

Quit. Quit now.

This is both the best and worst possible advice for a beginning writer.

Why the worst possible advice? Because it’s a dream killer. After all, this person is at the very beginning of what could possibly be a long journey, with many ups and downs along the way.

If a certain group of Polynesian people had quit at the beginning of their journey, we wouldn’t have Easter Island. If Stephen King had quit at the beginning? Or Debbie Macomber? All that wonderful work would never have existed.

Ah, but it’s also the best possible advice — it forces the baby writer to make a choice between letting somebody else control her dreams and taking control of her dreams for herself.

If you control your own dreams, you’re responsible for making them come true and that can be scary. But if you let somebody else push you around from the beginning, you’ll never make it in publishing.

It’s too rough out there for the tenderhearted; everybody with the ability to jot down a shopping list will have an opinion on your creations, and most of those opinions will boil down to, “I could have done this better.” This is normally self-delusion, but it’s still painful to hear when applied to your work.

I speak from experience; I’ve had blind critiques where I could tell the person on the other end (a volunteer) spent a lot of time and effort…rewriting every one of my sentences in her voice. Circling every word ending in “ly” — including those in dialog. Telling me I used the wrong font. Since I was a typesetter for ten years, this one particularly makes my eyelid twitch; thank goodness it’s becoming far less common.

And those weren’t agents or editors, just other writers trying to help. It can be brutal out there, even from people who get it and are trying to help. I once had to tell a writer that Nephritis is a bad name for an Egyptian queen, because it means kidney disease (I meant it in the best possible way, but still — ouch).

If the advice to quit now makes you sad and disappointed, maybe you should quit; maybe you don’t have the rhino-hide it takes. But if “Quit now” makes you angry and determined, it might be the best advice for you. Sometimes the fire in the belly needs a match to get started.

Now that I think about it, the advice — and the reaction to it — isn’t just for writers; it’s for anything where there’s a lot of competition and you’re just getting started in learning a new skill, whether that skill is artistic, work-related, cultural, or in extreme sports. Whatever.

Go find a match and get that fire going.

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