Reading over all the previous posts this month, clearly there’s no shortage of bad writing advice out there! Like every writer, I’ve heard my share over the years, too. I actually count myself rather fortunate that when I first started writing, I didn’t know any other writers. At all. I just muddled along on my own, mostly trying to write the kind of book I wanted to read in my favorite (at the time) genre. I had no idea what I was doing, which maybe worked to my advantage. If I’d been told by Those Who Knew Better to “write what you know” or “write X words a day, come hell or high water,” or “you have to have an agent to sell a book,” I might never have made my first sale.
As it was, I wrote a story I liked about characters I liked, in a time period I liked. I did discover along the way that some research was necessary, something a seasoned writer probably would have told me. But hey, I knew how to use a library (this was pre-internet) so was able to plug my gaps in knowledge to make my scenes and history realistic. Knowing nothing of agents, I went to a bookstore to see who was publishing Regencies like mine and wrote down addresses. Then I typed up cover letters (I probably did rely on some book or other for that) and mailed off my manuscript to them all. Yeah, I was that naive. Not surprisingly, I racked up a bunch of rejections. But one publisher, Harlequin, offered to read another book if I had one. By then, I’d nearly finished book #2 (learning more about the market along the way) so I did just that…and sold it. Unagented.
Since the indie revolution, I’ve heard a whole new crop of writing advice, much of it bad, at least in my opinion. Like: “To be successful, you must produce as quickly as possible.” There are “gurus” out there who insist you need to publish a minimum of six books a year to “make it” as an indie author. And yes, many indie authors who can put out a book every six weeks do make bank. So… I tried. I read books and attended workshops, all aimed at doubling or tripling my writing speed. You know what I managed to produce more of? Stress! After a year or two, I realized that I can no more write fast than I can write to market. Some authors can do both, brilliantly, but not me.
Once I stopped beating myself up for not writing faster, I took a look around and noticed something: many of those authors who had previously been writing 8, 10, 12 books a year, had burned out and completely stopped writing. Others were on the edge and panicking, afraid if they slowed down, their income would drop, because nearly all their earnings were from their front-list books. Looking at my own earnings, I realized that most of my income actually came from my backlist—not surprising in a slow writer. Yet I was actually making as much as many of those super-fast writers. Huh.
Some authors really can write both very quickly and very well, and more power to them. But for most of us, there’s a tradeoff between speed and quality. When I hear a writing/marketing “expert” advise would-be bestsellers that it’s better to publish something “good enough” now than to lose momentum by taking another month to polish it, I cringe. Before I put my name on a book, I want it to be the absolute best I can make it. Maybe perfection’s not possible, but dammit, I’ll get as close as I can. Based on my reviews and backlist sales, that strategy can work just as well. (And for me, at least, it’s a whole lot less stressful!)
So I’ll repeat what several others here have already said: The only Good Writing Advice is advice that works for you. Any advice that doesn’t, for whatever reason, is Bad Writing Advice. Period.
Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-five novels (so far). The most recent, Convergent, released October 27, 2020 and she hopes to release her next before the end of the year. She’ll do her best to make it worth waiting for!