Journeys in Learning – The Trouble with Advice

Sometimes, being new at something is really hard.

It is hard to jump into something feeling like everyone knows more about that something than you do. It can be very tempting, instead of diving into that something and working at it until you get better, to try and find every piece of advice you can about it. This is certainly what I tend to do.

In some ways, finding out how to do something from more experienced people is a great thing. It provides important signposts for the journey, and helps you know what to expect, and if you’re on the right track. The trouble is, most advice you find on the internet (which is where I get most of mine!), or even in books, will not be tailor made for your needs. It is near enough impossible to find a piece of universal advice that will suit every person and every nuance of situation, even if it seems to be quite specific to your problem.

Allow me to give you an example.

This summer, having decided (rather tentatively) to give writing a try, it was my first instinct to plunge head-first into an overwhelming ocean of writing advice, from authors, publishers, bloggers, even newspapers and magazines. I soon found, however, that, rather than making me feel prepared to begin my actual journey as a writer, it was making me feel disheartened and inadequate. Take this article for example:

It’s a huge list of writing tips proffered by successful authors. You don’t actually have to click on the link (it’s a pretty sizeable list, and that’s only part one!), because I’ve picked out just a few pieces of advice to illustrate my point:

“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.”

“Write only when you have something to say.”

“Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.”

How on earth do I breathe life into something? Am I over-explaining things? How do I trust a reader when I don’t really believe anyone will ever read this?

Do I really have something to say? Is what I’m about to write good/important/worthy enough to even put into words?

Do I really love writing enough to make this work? What if I don’t want thisΒ enough? Am I just kidding myself???

Do you see what I’m getting at? None of those were bad pieces of advice, quite the opposite. But it’s my reaction to them that is the problem. What immediately springs to mind is not how I can incorporate these into my writing, but rather all the ways I can possibly fail to do so. This may just be my insecurities talking (when do they ever shut up?). But I’ve found that my writing (and peace of mind) is much more content when I shut out others’ advice (I’ve already read enough of it to last me a lifetime!) and justΒ WRITE!

Now I just need to take my own advice…


7 thoughts on “Journeys in Learning – The Trouble with Advice

  1. Advice is always a double edged sword. Especially in being creative. I think everybody has to find out for themselves. There are no general rules applicable to every last human. Otherwise there would be a lot less self-help-books sold.
    It is a good text. I can take a lot out of it. And I like the link πŸ˜‰

  2. Oh I am the WORST at this– it’s like I think I get “writer points” if I waste all my writing time on reading ABOUT writing as opposed to doing it. There is so much out there that conflicts each other simply because people are so different… You have to figure out what works for you. It’s like keeping your house clean– if you googled (or Pinterested….) that you would find all kinds of systems and advice and tips but at the end of the day you know what works for you and you get it done. Easier said than done when it comes to writing, of course, but I’m right there with ya πŸ™‚

    • That’s so true! haha! I’m glad you get this too and I’m not the only one πŸ˜› It’s so easy just to spend forever reading this stuff and not actually writing! Thanks for the comment πŸ™‚ Rachel

  3. Rachel-
    Thought I’d check you out since you made such a nice reply to my comment on Kristen Lamb’s blog.
    I have to say that advice is a double-edged sword, especially in writing. I have felt overwhelmed since pursuing this “writing thing” full-time (July 2013), but I realize that I have weaknesses that need to be fixed. It really is a matter of sifting through the haystack to find the needle. Some things will help you succeed; others will bog you down.
    Keep reading Kristen’s blog because I have found very few things there that didn’t help me write better.
    Keep writing.

    • Hi, Thanks for taking the time to comment on here πŸ™‚ I definitely agree that advice can be both a good and a bad thing. I have found a wealth of advice on writing blogs that has been really helpful, mostly because it’s been so personal. I think the thing with short snippets of advice like the list I gave as an example is that it’s so generalised, and really wasn’t helping me at all – it was just making me feel overwhelmed and want to give up completely! I think it is often quite different with blogs that are more personal and with more space to really elaborate what is meant.
      Well done with your transition to full-time writing! For many people that is a really brave thing to do so I admire you for it πŸ™‚ Thanks again for your lovely comment and encouragement!

  4. Pingback: Journeys in Writing – What is NaNoWriMo anyway? | Journeys in Life

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