Put down the writing books

writing advice

I’ve noticed in the course of my fiction writing endeavors that reading books on writing can be helpful — and then stifling.

The expert advice can make us smarter and ward us away from a lot of bad decisions. But after I had stockpiled a dozen books and was rifling through them, marking their pages with pen or post-it notes to flag a good tip, I realized all that information was weighing me down. Not just in my head but in my writing as well.

So today, I put all those books in the corner of my room, where they’d stay out of sight. Because to set your writing free, you have to turn off all the voices that tell you to do this or do that, or that it’s not good, and just listen to what the story and characters tell you.

Having all the voices from those books speaking at once — telling me what my writing should and shouldn’t be like — was like trying to write in a crowded, noisy room.

I’m not done reading books on writing. I want to keep honing my craft, and other, wiser people have a lot to teach me. But for now, I’m going to concentrate on writing my way. The lessons I’ve learned are still with me. I’ll just leave the rest for another day — when the writing is done and editing as all I have to think about.

And when I feel overwhelmed by this, by writing at all, I think of Anne Lamott. Just take it bird by bird, kid.

What do you think? Is advice ever too much of a good thing? How do you deal with it?

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