What To Do When You Receive Conflicting Advice

Monday, May 29, 2017
When editing and checking resources for an upcoming article for WOW!, I happened upon a blog post, where the blogger was explaining another post he saw by a successful author and how he didn't think any of the tips she gave were correct. He then went through each tip from the woman's article (without using her name) and explained why she was wrong. I thought then and there: well, she has a lot of experience and she doesn't think she is wrong. And this guy has a lot of experience, and he thinks he's right. This is 100 percent conflicting advice.

As a writer, what should you do if you read conflicting advice from successful writers? What should you do if members of your critique group disagree on a section of your manuscript? What should you do if someone is telling you NOT to do something that you are already doing and it is working for you?

1. Look closely at who is providing the advice. 

If you are a non-fiction writer and you are reading advice from a successful romance author, this is why the advice might be conflicting. The writer giving the advice has different experiences than the other one AND in a completely different genre. So the advice actually shouldn't be the same. You also should look at the career of the person giving the advice--what does success mean to him or her? Is it success because the person makes a 6-figure income or do they measure it by winning a literary fiction award? Read the bios of the writers and look at their websites--which one matches you more closely? That is the advice you should probably follow.

2. Listen to your gut. 

You know what you want out of your writing career. You've made goals and have hopes and aspirations. If you read a piece of advice that doesn't "feel" right for you and your writing, then it probably isn't. A writer who is freelancing as their full-time job is not going to follow the same advice or path as a writer who is a memoir writer, trying to get their first book published.

The same is true for the critique group problem I mentioned. If you have writers telling you completely different things in your critique group, then you should wait a few days and see which resonates more with you and your story. Actually, maybe none of the advice will work for your manuscript, or one may stand out more than the others. Regardless, sometimes I feel like writers worry too much about what people are saying about their writing and not trusting themselves enough.

3. Find more resources. 

Another thing you can do is find more resources that support one of the opinions. What are the majority of people saying in that field or genre? Do you think that will work for you and your work? If so, then that means it is probably good advice and pretty standard for the genre you are writing for. If one of the writers seems to be a lone wolf, then that probably means for whatever reason, that writer found this method to work for him, but it might not work for you or your writing (or most writers actually).

Conflicting advice can be frustrating. I'm sure many of you have heard something like: no one reads a prologue, and then someone has suggested a prologue for your book. Or another common piece of advice for children's writers is publishers will not publish children's books with talking animals as the main characters, and then a successful one comes out. In general, when you are a new writer, follow the standard advice--the one that seems to be more popular and the one that resonates the best with you and your work.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. For more information about her books, please check out her website, where she also blogs about being a single mom and writer. You can also check out her novel writing course here in the WOW! classroom. 

photo above by Marlon Hammes on Flickr.com



Angela Mackintosh said...

Gosh, now I'm interested to know who the guy was that was disproving the woman's article and what the articles were about! It's so true though, writing and the business of authoring is so subjective. What works for one writer doesn't work for another, and so many times authors make it big because of factors like what's going on in the publishing world, trends, and so forth. Great article, Margo! I think your advice about what to look for when looking at advice is very helpful here! :)

Margo Dill said...

Ha! Thanks, Angela. :) I do often hear writers say things like: But I heard... and I think: Well, nothing is gospel in the writing world. :)

Mary J. Breen said...

Hi Margo:
Thanks for the supportive comment on my post. I have one for yours too as I think you’ve raised an interesting issue that I expect happens to lots of writers.

Several years ago when I was much less experienced, I was part of a writing group. In the group were two published authors, and one of these women had won several honours. I very much admired their work and valued their opinions. Then came the day when I showed something to the group, and one of these two women thought it worked very well and the other thought it didn’t work at all. I was stopped in my tracks. Which one was right? After considerable thought, I realized that, with regret, I had to leave the group because what I had to do was figure out for myself whether my work had enough merit to stand on its own. I realized I shouldn’t be giving all the power over to these completely well-intentioned women; I had to start making these decisions for myself. And, I was right. Now that I’ve been writing for a while, I’m much more able to listen and take ideas from others without feeling any pressure to comply, but early on, it was not easy at all.

I wonder if you recognize this, and what your advice is.

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