Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a gorge

Over the years I’ve come across a wealth of resources on the internet to help improve and give advice towards the improvement of writing. Many of these links include directions for self publishing (but never for self publicity), advice from the world’s experts, exercises to help with ‘writer’s block’, and exercises to help the writer to try new ways of writing. I’ve had mixed feelings about much of these, but some of them are of a high quality.

Of course, much depends on the actual person giving the advice; there are billions of people in the world, so there are probably millions of writers of all kinds, so that means there are millions of people who qualify to give advice.

Well it doesn’t. Just because you do something, doesn’t mean you are good at it. Just because you do something well doesn’t mean you can give advice. I’m not saying don’t take advice from professional experienced and quality writers, I’m saying be wary of who you take advice from and what the advice you are being given is. Sometimes the same advice can be interpreted if delivered differently. I’ll give a little analogy to help prove my point.

Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a gorge, a deep gorge, not very wide and possibly jumpable. You’re eyeing it up, you reckon with a decent run you could make it, especially if you jump naked and with the wind at your back just to improve your ability to travel through the air. All of a sudden, a person appears as if from behind a rock, and says, “I beg you, please wait until you hear my advice on this brave deed you are attempting”
“You what?” says yourself.
“I said, I beg you, please …”
“I heard what you said, but in fairness, layman’s terms please. Sure, amn’t I too busy worrying about whether the extra potato I had for me dinner will affect the velocity of my jump to be translating your fine linguistic diatribe into a tangible comment” You retort.
“You what?” In reply. A tennis match has ensued.
Not being one to let one get ahead of you, you take control of the situation, “You started it, so you go first, I’ve a gorge to worry about”.
“Of course. I said, in layman’s terms, hold on a second there now, are ye mad? Would you not wait for a bit of advice before ye start throwing yourself across gorges. You’re no leaping tiger now are you?” This person chuckles to you.
Being a wise and well read individual, you agree to hear the advice on offer. It would be a good idea to think this over a little, and even while the boring advice is being delivered, you can work out a few mathematical equations in relation to your weight, the speed you’ll run at and the wind speed, thus you can confirm your ability to clear the gorge.

“So, ye want to be jumping over this gorge? Well have ye thought about the reality? There is a bigger picture, don’t ye know? Have you ever jumped a gorge before? I think not. And what of your family and friends, won’t they not want ye to jump this gorge? Have ye even thought what will happen to them if ye don’t make it? Ye can’t even see the bottom of the gorge from here so how do ye expect to know what is going to be jumping up to bite ye mid-leap? You’re mad, and this is madness, pure madness. Ye should be locked up with the key thrown down into that gorge so that ye can’t go running around breaking your mother’s heart with feats of undeniable bizzareness. If ye were my child, which you’re not thank’s be to jaysus, I’d have you kicked from here to Baltinglass and back. But, you’re not. Thank jaysus. So now, what have ye got to say for yourself now, ye eejit?”

Inflamed at this attack on your independence and intellect which has helped you rationally plan and assess the scientific and rational possibility of a successful jump, you deliver a two-fingered salute in their honour and begin to set yourself up for your run-and-jump. When all of a sudden, another person appears much like the last time, as if from behind a rock and says,  “I beg you, please wait until you hear my advice on this brave deed you are attempting”
“You what?” says yourself.
“I said, I beg you, please …”
“I heard what you said, but in fairness, layman’s terms please. Sure, amn’t I too busy worrying about whether the extra potato I had for me dinner will affect the velocity of my jump to be translating your fine linguistic diatribe into a tangible comment” You retort.
“You what?” In reply. Another tennis match has ensued.
Not being one to let one get ahead of you, you take control of the situation, “You started it, so you go first, I’ve a gorge to worry about”.
“Of course. I said, in layman’s terms, hold on a second there now, are ye mad? Would you not wait for a bit of advice before ye start throwing yourself across gorges. You’re no leaping tiger now are you?” This person chuckles to you.

Having heard this story before you are not inclined to listen, in fact you are preparing to give this other person, who looks remarkably akin to the previous advisor but with a more worldly look about them, a good seeing to with your right boot (which you have put back on specifically for this).

“In fairness to my predecessor”, the person says, “I’d be more wise and worldly in terms of dealing with examples of expressions of things previously labeled as ‘madness’; sure enough I did most of this long ago when I was no better than yourself. So, if you have a moment, listen to what I have to say. Y’d be surprised by what a person has to say, even if they do look the same as the last gombeen who felt it was their business to tell you what to do and where to do it.” Informed the new arrival to you.
Still confused and angered by the appearance of another advisor, especially when the last one boiled your blood so much, you consider that perhaps it may be wise and worldly, as you are, to listen to this person who looks no different from the last inconsiderate lout. “Go ahead”, you instruct with a considerable tone of distrust.

“Well, in fairness my predecessor wasn’t wrong. But, he was also far from right. Sure ye can do what ye want, you’re an independent soul who can make your own decisions, ye don’t need ould codgers like ourselves preying on your ever thought and deed, sure y’d never get anywhere. I couldn’t care less about what you do with your own life to be honest, and if you’re an eejit, sure that’s your problem and is of no concern to myself, provided of course ye don’t come wrecking my shop or whatever it is I am inclined to be doing at the time. And as for Baltinglass, I’ve no idea where it is and neither does that clown who was lecturing ye earlier, just likes the sound of the town. It rhymed I suppose. But then again, it didn’t. In-all-and-anyways, that’s beside the point. Believe me, I’m dying to see you jump that gorge, sure it would be some craic. And if ye fell? Sure the laughs that would be had! However, this is the kind of game that will send someone off home crying to their mammy, so best of all to warn the mammy in advance. I’ll tell ye what, why not give your mammy a bell and forewarn her of your immediate future? And while you’re at it, give your granny and granddad a shout too, just in case they think it was something they did. Sure, the first thing everyone will think is that it was suicide. Which it isn’t, is it? Have you been in touch with your friends about this? No. Well I reckon a heads up won’t do any of them any harm, and sure don’t worry about any of them running up here to stop ye, sure by the time they get here y’ll be either on the other side, or dead. And that’ll be a waste of energy on their behalf because y’ll be washed all the way down to the bottom of the mountain or whatever it is we’re standing on, and no doubt they’ll be thick with ye about that too. Ah yeah, one more thing, do ye have a will?”

So you can see here two different kinds of advice which are, to a certain extent, the same. Of course there are differences, most importantly the outcome, because the advice is delivered differently. We have one piece of advice where it is taken as the overall social impact of the actions, when in fairness, the impression and effect of the actions are deeply personal. Yes, they will affect other people, but it’s a personal decision that relies solely on the person carrying out the act. What the rest of the world thinks is not important to the person carrying out the act, but the thoughts of the advisor are laid heavily on the person as something that should be considered as part of the overall progress of humanity. Essentially, why would you want to do this because I think it is mad, or stupid, and possibly many other people will agree with me. So, therefore, you’re wrong.

In contrast there’s the second piece of advice. Here the advisor has a look at the situation, sees it for what it is, and allows the person do what they want, because that’s what we should be allowed to do, as it’s not a police state (I know I didn’t refer to this in the analogy, but it’s not…yet) the person is allowed to make their own decisions about their own life. The advisor merely reasons with the already irate gorge jumper, that perhaps it might be good practice to let a few people know that they might die in a few minutes and that you love them very much and that their death had nothing to do with them. The advisor appreciates the jumpers intelligence and bravery, but also informs that this isn’t the only thing that’s important in this case.

I’m going to be mad now I’m going to offer advice. Take it as you like or just ignore me like I imagine is usually the case.

1. Write whatever you want.
2. Remember that you’re not the only person in the world.

As I said at the start of this post, I’ve travelled the internet far and wide and come across the good, the bad and the cliché in terms of advice for writers. Some of them I’ve just skipped ahead, but some I’ve stopped and read. I’ll leave a few that I think are the better ones, and I’ll leave it to you to take what they say or just ignore what they say because we all have our gorges to jump, just not everyone has jumped the same ones.

 

Susan Sontag: Read, write, rewrite – repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed (New York Times, 2000) – The New York Times has an entire series on writing tips from writers that you may want to have a look through. This is one of my favourite because Sontag shows great technique, familiarity and diversity in her writing here.

Charles Bernstein: 50 Experiments – Leading critic and academic, Charles Bernstein leaves a pile of great tips on how to get the pen (or keyboard) moving. When I first found this there were fifty, now there are ninety-two. He has also added some funky colours. Hours of fun here.

Language is a Virus – This is quite a good website I’ve come across a few times. Has plenty of stuff to keep you busy.

About.com – Seems to have an answer to everything. This page focuses more (and possibly too much) on the environment of the writer, rather than what’s actually being written.

101 Writing Tips – Not sure where I found this but plenty of points to take not of, with examples to help you titter.

To be honest, I know there are more that I liked personally, but I can’t locate them for whatever reason. I will try to advance this post the more I come across sites I think are good enough to post here. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s