Righting Advice

I am becoming increasingly annoyed when I read writing ‘advice.’ I write ‘advice’ that way because invariably, it’s not advice, it’s opinion. It is opinion disguised as advice, a sort of process of opinionisation (I made that up!).

If someone tells you, never jump out of an aeroplane without a parachute, that is advice. Good advice, unless suicide is your intention. As is, don’t cross roads with your eyes closed while wearing headphones.

Writing ‘advice,’ on the other hand, is opinion, or, at best, a suggestion.

Writing ‘advice’ can be broadly split between two sources:

  • The successful writer who has employed a long list of methods and assumes that everyone who does exactly the same – without variance – is destined to be equally successful. It worked for me, right, so you need to do it? So what’s the problem?
  • The unsuccessful or progressing writer who has heard ‘advice’ which they consider extremely good and have decided it is the right ‘advice,’ whether it works for them or not. It worked for someone else and I agree with it and one day it will work for me and, by God, you have to do it, too!

They both sound the same, because they pepper their ‘advice’ with things like never, don’t, you shouldn’t, you can’t, always, you must and, my all-time favourite (which has a number of variations), if you don’t do x, how can you ever call yourself a writer?

Should you ignore this tsunami of negativity? Sorry, I don’t give advice.

Writing opinion (note no quotation marks), offered by the thoughtful writer, however, is a different and much more welcome beast. The author of opinion will say things like, you might want to consider this, it worked for me in a similar situation, or, someone told me this, which I thought made sense and may help, although I haven’t used it myself.

As a writer, when I look at a blank page, apart from the feeling of dread, horror and panic, I see a universe of writing possibilities. I know – and I am reassured by the knowledge – that all the great and not-so-great works of literature, everything, in fact, that has ever been inscribed, began by someone looking at a blank page (or the ancient equivalent writing surfaces).

It is possible to dream that I might fill that blank page with something as wonderful and enduring as all those fabulous writers of yesterday and today. The reality may be quite different, but while the canvas is unspoiled by my written words, no one can argue with me.

It therefore irks me when I am surrounded by don’ts, nevers, always’s (I did that deliberately, so sue me) and musts. Suddenly, the giant universe of the written word shrinks into a negative little rule-bound world of fear and doubt. The page is no longer filled with words, but landmines.

Language is a tool and words exist purely so that we can express ideas with them. I can mash and pummel and invent (and invert) and abuse and misuse them to suit what I am attempting to do. The resulting success or failure is a very personal matter between ME and my readers.

So now, when ‘advice’ is presented as fact, I like to throw a spanner in the works by asking, why? The ensuing discussions are a lot of fun.

So, I hear you ask, what should you do? Should you ignore the plethora of ‘advice?’ This waterfall of instructions? The catalogue of commandments?

Decide for yourselves. I only have opinions.


  1. “Suddenly, the giant universe of the written word shrinks into a negative little rule-bound world of fear and doubt. The page is no longer filled with words, but landmines.”
    Luckily, only if you take notice of it.
    And you are dead right! (An exclamation mark, I think that’s supposedly against the ‘rules’ as well.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good post. I can’t stand those “you must write in exactly this manner or follow these rules” types of people. Creativity should be encouraged, not repressed or moulded into bland little blocks of conformity.


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