Thursday, July 22, 2010

Best and Worst Advice

I joined a writer's group a few months ago.  The group meets for a couple of hours every week.  Yesterday's session focused on "advice" as a theme and more specifically, a discussion around the best and worst writing advice ever given or received.

Somehow, the conversation triggered some connection to my work.

1. Focus, time management and goals
  • Given limited time and resources, don't spread yourself thin, don't procrastinate, be selective about what you do in the "here and now". If you're writing a novel, handle it like a real world project, set a timeline for completion of major milestones.  Don't use the advice to "read broadly" as an excuse for delaying your writing.  Don't use the advice to "research thoroughly" as an excuse for not writing.  At work, don't take on more tasks than you can handle, if your tasks don't have specific deadlines, make up some.

    This advice seems to apply equally well whether I think of writing as a hobby or a profession because the "free time" is a valuable commodity that deserves to be managed carefully. 
2. Take yourself seriously
  • I still feel ambivalent about what it means to take myself seriously as a writer.  Am I a writer if I write as a hobby and never submit anything for publication, or never even try to get other people to read what I writer?  For me, taking myself seriously as a writer has meant a) saving what I write (as opposed to throwing it away soon after writing it); b) getting to completion (meaning going from writing pieces of dialogue and scenes to writing a full manuscript); and c) paying attention to the craft of writing and trying to write something that would be good enough for someone else to read. 
  • At work, taking myself seriously is another ballgame.  It's one thing to take the task at hand seriously and completing the task to the best of your abilities.  It's another thing to take yourself seriously as a professional and pay attention to long term professional goals, how your colleagues and supervisors perceive you.
3. Rules vs. Advice
  • Follow the rule and consider the advice.  Even rules shouldn't be followed blindly.  Rules are designed based on particular contexts.  Until you understand why a rule is what it is (why it exists in the first place), you should probably not apply it blindly.  Advice is meant to make you think. 

    There are "rules" and protocols worth following, just to get things done. If every editor on the planet wants manuscripts submitted double spaced, it's not worth trying to argue that a single spaced manuscript will save trees.  Hopefully you're submitting your manuscript electronically anyway.  Most workplaces are full of such "rules" and requirements for getting things done. That's why the first few months on any job are mostly about learning how to get things done, figuring out what the rules are and getting advice on how to get things done, regardless of what the manual says to do.
Don't spend too much time writing on a blog when you're supposed to be focusing on a novel.  Ooops!

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