When Writer Advice Becomes a Demon on Your Shoulder

I never used to read any ‘advice for writers’. There’s a strong collection of untouched text books somewhere in my living room about how to write this or that, which I’m sure are packed with well-meaning information that would no doubt help me. The internet, too, is filled with so many guides, quotes, how tos, dos and don’ts and a multitude of other lists and advice for writers of all levels and genres the volume of pornography and cat photos.

Regretfully (‘scuse the adverb, Mr King), I’ve started to read a lot of it.

First, I’ve got to say I’m not slating any of the advice. What I’ve read is all valuable, handy, sound advice by people who appear to know what they’re talking about. I haven’t got a problem with any of it. Most of what I’ve read to date has probably helped me become better at what I do, or at least become more aware of what I might be doing wrong. The issue is, it might have done it too well.

Now, when writing, it’s all sitting there in my head. It’s watching, assessing and second guessing every word I write. Is the pacing off, is there enough conflict here, have I said ‘fuck’ too many times, would this guy move that table over there in that way? On one hand, it’s making sure I’m writing better. But it’s sure as shit making me write a lot slower—and I’d just got over the ‘edit as you write’ problem that had me circling the same paragraph for a millennia.

I’d argue that while all of this advice may have helped me better understand why something may be good or bad, it’s halting the actual process of creating something in the first place. I’m sure I’m not the first person this has happened to. If I am, then feel free to just laugh at me and throw ham in my face.

The positive to come out of this is reading writer advice has inadvertently taught me something else entirely: to lock all of it away and tape up its mouth until it’s safe for it to come out to play during the editing process.