Why Writers Ask for Advice

Writing by Biana Mores

Writing by Biana Mores

When it comes to writing, I'm an analyzer. I over think every part of the process. Once I've settled on something, however, I'm able to blaze through it with many things figured out that takes would otherwise take another two or three rewrites. As my wife will tell you, I'm a bit insufferable. Even the smallest details become huge stumbling blocks for me until I finally just move past them and find what I want to do.

This is a large part of why an author will come to you with questions.

But if we're going to be totally honest, when it comes down to it, you will not be able to help this writer. They are basically using you as a sounding board for their ideas and whatever you recommend, in all likelihood, will be the worst, most absurd idea they've ever heard.

It's nothing against you, but, unless you've read all the pages, notes, , your advice is lacking. And that's okay. As I stated, you're a sounding board for the writer to vent their frustrations, to actually say out loud what they're struggling with and sort out what they can or can't live with in their story.

You're helping out more than you'll ever be able to realize.

I've had entire sections of my novel created out of bad advice. I was having a problem with my main character running into a similar situation multiple times, but couldn't figure out what to do. I don't even remember what the advice was, but as a result, I realized that I couldn't keep that stuff in there and pulled out around twenty pages of my book, took a hard look at it and created new scenarios, which expanded the book by fifty pages.

Holly Lisle has stated the following:

But from time to time, a hopeful writer will ask my advice. I always take my time, give the question my full attention, and try to offer the best answer I can, based on my experience and what I know of the markets and the industry.
About two thirds of the time, my questioner’s immediate response starts off with, “But I can’t do that because . . .”
At which point, I’m out of the conversation. I’m starting to look for a quick exit and just about any exit will do. It isn’t that I think my advice would turn this writer into an overnight success, or even necessarily get his or her manuscript looked at; it isn’t that the writer has hurt my feelings by ignoring me (you don’t get this far in the business without developing a pretty tough hide).
The problem with people who say “But . . .” is that they have already decided that they know everything they need to know about writing. They may be chatting me up in the hopes of networking, or because they want me to tell them that theirs is the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard. But they aren’t interested in getting published. And they aren’t going to get published.

Ultimately, her point is that you can't make excuses for your writing. You can real the full thing here: How to Tell Who WON’T Make It in Writing (and How Not to Be That Writer

Now as an unpublished author, take this with a grain of salt, but a lot of authors are asking for advice and looking to work out ideas of their own. When advice is given, unless it is a strict structural or formatting question, a lot of times it can be blatantly wrong for the book - such as suggesting a character confront another character when they don't even know each other. A stranger can't know all the details of the book, even friends and family who have heard you yammering about it for years can't keep all the facts straight (believe me, I am much maligned for my constant fixing and restructuring my stories). If an author can't try to fix that misconception, then any advice you're trying to give is rendered completely moot.

I've run into this many times with critiques and suggestions. You present a situation, maybe even some writing, but 9/10ths of the time, something is misconstrued and suddenly all that effort someone puts in is worthless. My first foray into the Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent's Contest, I presented my first novel. In this contest, you put up the first 250 words of your manuscript, along with 49 other authors. Everyone must at least critique 5 other works and then the Secret Agent comes in, gives their opinion, and may or may not request pages from you. On this first auspicious occasion, I had used the word Prefect in my story. You can read the most recent version of this chapter here. As a result, the first commenter mentioned Harry Potter, thinking this was some sort of fan-fic project. All of the following comments pursued this same angle.

Sadly, other than learning not to use the word Prefect, I got nothing out of this experience. 

For me, this is the problem with the "But..." argument. It would've been lovely if I could've explained that this was instead about a man being hunted down by a monster, but instead a single word derailed all the tension and made it a story about wizards. All the following comments were about how to make that story tighter, not help me with the real story. In the years since, I've seen this repeated time and again.

So when your writer friends come to you for advice, smile and nod politely, give it your best go. But, if they're worth their weight as a writer, they will have a problem with your suggestion, they will fight against it, but it will help them even if it seems they're just spitting in your face. You are encouraging them to think about it, to test their mettle, and, when they come out on the other side, they will be stronger and more confident in their story.

Because of you.


Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.