Saturday, February 09, 2013

Whom should you listen to?

Hello you poor, misguided and uneducated writing masses. I'm Big Book Author, and I'm here to tell you exactly what you need to do to become . . . well not me, because no one will ever be as good at this as I am. But I am going to impart some of my wide, wonderful knowledge to you, though none of you are deserving of my time. I'm just that kind of person. What do you mean you've never heard of me? You obviously just aren't smart enough to read the right books.
Does that sound kind of familiar?
We have all seen them: The self-proclaimed 'I know everything' people on the Internet. They appear in blogs, FaceBook, Twitter and elsewhere. I've been watching a few for some time as they lecture at every chance while claiming to be an expert on whatever subject happens to come up. As an example, lately a lot of the discussions have been on 'author presence' in the Internet world.
One such person has one of the ugliest, hardest to read sites I've ever seen. The pages are crowded with ads, the bit of text supposed to draw your attention is all but lost and the writing is mundane at best. Others have been better, but most of the 'expert' sites are dull, or have such obvious mistakes on them that you want to write and ask why they did something so stupid. (All caps in your headers? Come on. . . .)
So why would anyone listen to these claims of being an expert?
Because the person makes the claims persistently, along with brushing aside the words of anyone who doesn't agree with the knowledge presented. A list of credentials often follows (are any of them real?) and if that doesn't work, there's always insulting the person who dared to disagree.
But you know what? In the age of the Internet, you need never take anyone at their word; not their word and not mine. We can all claim any sort of knowledge and include wild claims of success, but in the end, you have to be a judge of what is presented as evidence.
You also have to decide what works for you. This means you can find things that work for you in the most unlikely places. Be open to finding stuff on your own, not just accepting whatever little tidbit someone who might not have all the answers is willing to pass on to you.
If a person claims extraordinary knowledge of something like author branding, check the site. Does the site look like the person knows anything? If the author does appear knowledgeable, then see what you might find useful and adapt it. Many people will also give you links to other sites and books where they learned. Check several sites. Look over everything and find what works and what doesn't work for you.
(I, by the way, am not good at author branding, though I'm learning, which is why I suddenly found so many of these incredibly bad sites by people claiming to be experts.)
This is also true about things like 'rules of writing' and 'how to write' discussions. You will hear dozens of people tell you what you MUST do to write. I'm going to give you the only rule you really need to remember in writing:
There is no single right way.
The only thing you can truly do wrong is to write a dull story or a story that is unreadable. This means claiming lack of good grammar and punctuation as artistic style doesn't cut it. That's just lazy. However, perfect grammar and punctuation will not make a good story, either. Sometimes an interesting story can overcome some bad grammar problems, but perfect grammar cannot overcome a bad story.
For the rest? Write the story you want to tell. No other story is worth writing. If you are not passionate about what you are writing, how can you expect any reader to care about the story? Become involved in your own work. Live it, not just write it.
And you know, in this case, yeah . . . you should listen to me.
Go write and have fun.  That's the best advice I can give you.


B.C. Matthews said...

That always baffles me when I come across those "I know all and listen to me" types of writers. Especially given how different writers are all across the board.

But I still have to remind myself just to do my own thing as long as I love the story.

Zette said...

I think some people are so desperate to be 'expert' at something that they start making themselves believe it. They can't be happy to do well, they have to be the best.

And many of them can't be happy knowing they helped others in some way. Instead, they want to be the only one others listen to.

I don't get it, personally. I'm still out there hunting down more ideas on how to do things differently. I hope I never get complacent with my own abilities.