on September 13, 2012

I joined Romance Writers of America in early 2003 when an acquaintance brought me as her guest to a Sacramento Valley Rose meeting. It was the January meeting, a panel of category romance writers who also wrote single-title length romance in all different sub-genres. Even though I don’t write category romance, I was stunned at the wealth of information I’d never imagined would be so readily available to those who just ask.

I never regretted joining RWA. It’s one of the few professional writers organization that was also open to aspiring writers. I joined the Kiss of Death chapter in March of 2003 — they are the online chapter for those of us writing romantic suspense. I jumped into the myriad of writers loops and commented daily, sometimes multiple times a day, making connections with people who, like me, were writing stories they hoped to one day sell. I’m an extrovert by nature (those far less extroverted now than I was before I was published–but that’s a topic for another blog) and writing is a solitary profession. The online loops were my lifeline to real people, especially when I quit my day job in 2005, shortly after I signed my first contract.

When I first joined RWA, I already had two books completed and was working on my third. I hadn’t sold any, but had found an agent (who I terminated six months later for a variety of reasons) and felt that I was getting closer. While I believe I would have published with or without my RWA membership, I know that it would have taken me longer. I absorbed all the information, entered a boatload of contests (finaled in many, but never came in first), and forged friendships, many that have withstood the test of time.

In all this, in nearly ten years of being an RWA member and joining and unjoining many groups, participating in writers loops in and out of RWA, joining Mystery Writers of America, then International Thriller Writers, and more recently the Horror Writers Association, I’ve been amazed at the wealth of information shared by published authors, agents, editors, publishers, and booksellers. All with the stated goal of helping aspiring writers get published, or published authors grow their audience, or all writers to improve their craft.

So much information that it can be stifling. And much of it contradicts itself.

I’ve thought a lot about why that is, and I’ve realized it’s because people give advice on things that have worked for them. Sometimes, this well-meaning advice gets laid down as the law, and “rules” are forged in steel about what can and can not be done in writing a book. Especially if the advice comes from a published author, or an editor, or an agent.

Good people can disagree about what it takes to publish a book. Good people can disagree about issues of craft, the definition of a romance, the level of sexuality, the level of violence, the necessity of historical accuracy, and everything else that goes into writing a good book.

I think one reason I love Chuck Wendig’s blog is because he’s blunt, honest, and funny. In fact, I should just send you all to Chuck’s blog from Tuesday and tell you to read it because it’s pretty much what I would have loved to have said 🙂

But I’m going to take Chuck Writing Rule #24 and stress it to the millionth power:

Writing advice is neither good nor bad. It just is. It either works for you or it doesn’t. No one piece of advice is truly golden (with the exception of maybe Finish your shit and Don’t be a dick) — it’s all just that. Advice. It’s no better or worse than someone telling you what route to take to get to the zoo or what shirt to wear to that trailer park wedding. Like with every tool, pick it up, test its heft, give it a whirl. It works? Keep it. It fails? Fucking ditch it. Give writing advice no more importance than it is due.

A million times yes!

All the advice we get from cyberspace, from friends, from family, from experts and amateurs, works — if it works for us. If fails if it doesn’t work for us. And to expand on that, don’t tell other people they’re wrong because they did something/are doing something that didn’t work for you.

In 2002, I was writing romantic suspense. I love romantic suspense. I’d read Lisa Gardner’s THE THIRD VICTIM and Iris Johansen’s THE SEARCH and said to myself These are the kinds of stories I want to write. It was a revelation because romantic suspense was on the outs in publishing and I hadn’t read a lot of it. I was reading mostly mysteries, which I love, but when you combine mystery with a romance I felt like I’d discovered gold. That’s what I wanted to write.

I was told early on by well-meaning writers in RWA (both published and unpublished) that if I wanted to write romantic suspense, I needed to start at Harlequin because all the best single title romantic suspense and thriller authors started there (including some of my favorites — Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Lisa Jackson, etc.) On the surface it sounds like great advice–I mean if it was good enough for Lisa Gardner, dammit, it’s more than good enough for me.

Except … writing for category is NOT EASY and for someone like me, IMPOSSIBLE. Rejection after rejection poured in. No surprise–I wasn’t writing category romantic suspense. But I didn’t want to change what I was writing to fit their requirements.

Yet, the advice I was given was essentially just that–change my writing to get published.

And I decided I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the drive simply to be published; I had the drive to publish what I loved to write.

I know some people who modified their voice, their genre, their style in order to fit a specific line or requirement, and that worked for them. It might work for you. It doesn’t work for all.

I love how the writing community is so open to sharing with each other–we’re truly one big usually happy creative family. But no ones advice is all good or all bad. Like Chuck says, try it, if if works, keep it, if it doesn’t, toss it.

I have my own writing “rules” that work for me. They may not work for everyone. They may not work for anyone else. And confession: I break all my rules, anyway. They’re really just guidelines 🙂

So my “advice” to you is: write what you love, write with passion, rewrite with a critical eye, read often, and keep learning. No one is so good that they can’t benefit by improving their craft.