The biggest caveat with writing advice is that you should treat it as a suggestion, rather than an unalterable truth. It’s a point I belabour here whenever the topic of writing advice comes up, in a general, non-specific sense: If it doesn’t work for you, ignore it.
Yes, me putting this piece of advice (and all the other bits in the same category) into Writing Musts is a not-so-subtle poke at the idea of essential maxims that are required to write.
The most important thing to know is the very obvious “If you want to write, you must write.”
Trying out new strategies, ways around writer’s block, forms of expression, all those git-er-dun-quick tricks to writing a novel in two days, 17 reasons why your protagonist should have highlights in their hair, the writing-is-like-a-simile posts, they’re all well and good. But they’re not laws.
Working through a second read of FMTEE, with me taking notes on what I want to do, I’m only somewhere between chapters three and six, and I want to start rearranging things to a major extent. Second draft was always going to be a big case of structural editing for me, bringing in some characters sooner, postponing others, and clearing up the sequence of events.
In my specific case, I have a few story threads running through the novel, so I’m moving bits and pieces along their own thread (before they all get entwined), and it’s getting messy. Yes, even my own advice is probably not suitable for myself.
Picking the difference between when advice you’re following is hard and when it’s simply not working is not easy. It might even be the case of experience, which makes about finding out what works for you. I’ve been through the planning stage a bunch of times, written out first drafts, but never made much headway on the revision/rewrites that came next.
Reading through it still works for me, but I don’t think two distinct steps of 1) read and make notes, 2) write second draft will work for me. If I wasn’t planning on structural editing, that might be different. As it stands, a staggered approach will probably work best, meaning I’ll take the bits I’ve made notes on so far, and rewrite/revise up until that’s done. Move on to the next sequence of chapters, and do the same. Continue, writing right through to the end.
Like all plans or pieces of advice, it’s easier to know what works for you once you’ve tried it. Everyone offering advice is coming from a good place, and most advice is there for a good reason, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to you. Be human about it. Hell, be a little childish and rail against the advice with a thousand whys, just so you understand why that piece of advice exists to begin with.
A great example of this is most advice will tell you not to spoon-feed readers things that are obvious. I personally go out of my way to do this, and the conclusion? Two of my alpha readers had no idea that a particular event in the novel had taken place!
I hate these analogies BUT imagine a piece of cooking advice that said “Add less salt“. It’s already implying that you’re using too much, when you mightn’t have any at all. It’s that blasted tarragon you need to hold back on, damnit!
Your writing is your alone. You know what you like. Do your thing.