Dear New Writer

Ever heard advice like this… “head-hopping is very complex and difficult, so new writers should never try it.”

I absolutely agree with the first half of the sentence, but the second half, which is extremely common wherever you see ‘writing advice,’ is so negative and condescending I can’t find a profanity extreme enough to condemn it.

You would not throw an infant into a swimming pool and say, “swimming is extremely difficult, so I suggest you don’t attempt it until you are more experienced.”

It is dramatic to equate the two issues, but it does demonstrate how bad advice can kill or stifle raw creativity. Head hopping is only one example. I hear the same advice about multiple points of view, flashbacks, prologues or most other element of writing. In other words, if you are a new writer, don’t write!

There is something I believe that new writers should definitely avoid (and I am serious): other writers.

These other writers are, on the whole, well meaning. They have suffered the trials and errors, traps and blind alleys, frustrations and exasperations common to this joyful experience we call the writing life. They presumably don’t want new writers to experience the same angst and blood-boiling agonies and are doing them a favour by telling them to avoid the same path.

But they ignore the damage they are causing with this terrible advice. First of all, just because they failed or struggled to master a particular aspect of writing doesn’t mean some newbie writer can’t come along and instantly, or with a little practice, master the technique or, as I like to define this kind of ability, get away with it.

Secondly, avoidance of difficult aspects of writing means that a new writer may not experience misery and despair, two fundamental elements a writer must experience in order to improve and develop their own voice.

It’s not difficult to identify a writer who has managed to dodge the necessary lessons and mistakes required to gain an understanding of the complexity and breadth of the art. Their writing is bland and superficial, lacking an understanding of the power of the written word and the techniques of conveying an idea, however simple or complicated, in a sophisticated manner.

There may be limitations to a writer’s abilities, but only the individual writer can find out what they are. And the great writers never stop pushing them further away.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I hate writing advice. When I am told I must never do something, I take it as a challenge. When they say I must always do something else, I make a point of doing it another way.

It will also not surprise you to learn that by following this path I have made and continue to make many mistakes. I have made lots of them for years and it is my hope that one day I will have made enough of them to be considered a good writer.

And my thoughts on the thorny subject of head-hopping? It’s not for me, but that’s based on my experience.