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The Trouble With Advice

Books about writing don’t automatically help your craft.IMG_7508 adj 2to3

by Andy Scheer

The author insisted I critique her novel’s first chapter. I put nearly five hours into it: reading the pages, evaluating and commenting on aspects of her craft, then editing the entire chapter.

Because of the author’s insistence—and payment beyond my standard fee—I went into considerable detail.

Then I sent my assessment, satisfied I’d equipped her to progress in her craft in many specific ways.

So I never expected her response: What books on writing would I recommend to help her with the shortcomings I’d noted? Then came the kicker. She named multiple writing books she’d already read, titles by some of the most respected names in the business.

She named multiple writing books she’d already read,
titles by some of the most respected names in the business.

Those books are all fine, I said, but they were all written to a broad audience—to “writers.” If you want targeted help for your shortcomings, I said, I’ve just sent you twenty pages of tracked-changes editing, comments, recommendations, and examples directed specifically to your writing.

I encouraged her to study and understand my changes and comments.

Books about writing can be great, but only if you actually learn from them—and apply that to your writing.

5 Comments

  1. Andy, thank you. I have 5 books on writing that are suggested reading by my editor. He returned my first two chapters with multiple notes and corrections. This is my first book. The process can be overwhelming. I will concentrate on the corrections, then read the books.

    • Andy Scheer says:

      I appreciate your good words, Cherrilynn. The book I especially recommended to this author was Browne & King: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. (Turned out she already had it.)

      • I have that book too. I am a member of Jerry’s Guild. Jerry B. Jenkins has a course called, “Ferocious Self-Editing. ” I am humbled by how much I don’t know. I continue to learn and that’s a good thing.

  2. Rick Barry says:

    Good points. I’ve often reflected on the fact that a book on How to Ride a Bicycle might contain plenty of factual information, yet without helping all the potential riders out there. As a boy, I benefited from Dad watching my early efforts and then providing advice tailored to my personal needs. Sounds like you provided this woman with plenty of personal coaching, but she still sought some sort of magic bullet elsewhere.

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