1. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Writing "experts" - who do you trust?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BayView, Sep 1, 2018.

    Inspired by a link someone offered in another thread, to a YouTube video from an apparent "writing coach" who has, as far as I can tell, one self-published novel with mediocre sales to her credit, and no other credentials I can find...

    There are so many sources of writing advice in this world, and so much of the advice seems to be offered with a level of authority that seems completely unjustified, to me.

    I think we can sometimes evaluate advice based on whether it meshes with "conventional wisdom" and/or our own experiences, but if we already know enough to be able to evaluate advice and make that decision, then is the advice really needed, or are we just in an echo-chamber?

    Assuming we're looking for new ideas, things we might not have been able to think up for ourselves, where should we look? What credentials are valuable, what sources of authority should be trusted?

    When looking for "how-to" style advice rather than specific feedback, how do you guys decide whose advice to trust?
     
  2. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Lively Fred

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    I get most of my advice from articles online, and I don't often look at the credentials of the person giving it. Usually I take the advice, go 'huh I think this works for me' or 'yeah this isn't my deal'. Although I have had a presenter at a writer's group one time who really did not do a good job- and I was very aware that all the books to his name were self-published memoirs. (He was talking about Point of View.)

    Take for example someone coming across the advice 'Outline everything'. For pansters like me, this would be bad advice, but some new planners might go 'I'll try this' and it turns out to work.

    Writing is a very individualistic process. No one size fits all, it's more what works for this person vs that person. So most advice will benefit someone, maybe just not you.
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It certainly can be hard. I've only ever really made use of sources of the old-school variety, from writers passed through the fires of traditional publication, and that's simply due to the fact that all of the "How to write Science Fiction" books I own were purchased before self-pub became a thing, so take my words for what they're worth and knowing that fact.

    I have several such books. One by Ben Bova and one by Orson Scott Card (yes, I know, again, bought long ago before he showed his true colors) are the ones of which I've made the most use.

    In Card's book there's a chapter about naming things, which is ever a bedevilment in Science Fiction and Fantasy. His advice is (and I'm very loosely paraphrasing) "If your characters evolved on a gas giant planet - so they basically swim/fly through life - and they come across a predator that serves the same basic purpose as a shark does in our world, then have your character scream "Shark!" not some made-up name that doesn't carry any kind of emotive trigger for your reader."

    And he says it pretty much like that, as a very clear-cut, one-size-fits-all kind of rule.

    There is some wisdom to what he is saying. I understand the underlying reasoning for it, and insomuch as the idea of getting the impact across to the reader, I agree with this. I certainly don't agree with the one-size-fits-all manner of his delivery, nor the subsequent pages of explanation he gives as to why, in his opinion, one-size-fits all.

    So I guess my answer is that I take everything with a grain of salt. I know that you know (because we've talked about it enough times here in the forum) that for every rule, there's a wheelbarrow full of books that one can pull off the shelf that didn't abide by that rule and were successful, enjoyable stories, which for me puts into serious question the very notion of "rules" as a valid meter by which to measure.

    I read OSC's words concerning naming things, but I have adjusted his sentiment to better fit my personal Tools not Rules thought process. When I name a thing, I think about what (if any) impact that name is intended to have on the reader, how often the reader will come across it, have I already painted an image in the mind of the reader of what the thing is, was there time and room to do that in the writing, and if there wasn't, which is the better tool (word, name) to give the right impact in the space and time I intend to alot for that.


    ETA: And there are examples I can give where very successful writers couldn't care a jot as to OSC's opinion on that topic, or mine for that matter.

    Last night I was plodding along through the 4th installment of GRRM's unending magnum opus and came across a passage wherein Jaime Lannister threatens Lord Edmure with confinement within the oubliettes of Casterly Rock. Now, that's a real word, not made up, but it's such an esoteric bit of verbiage that for me it was just as opaque as a random string of letters GRRM could have pulled from his ample keister. I had to look it up. It just means a really small cell, small enough that the person cannot even bend over or sit, a standing coffin, so to speak. And Jaime actually does detail out what an oubliette is for Lord Edmure - to lend gravity to his threat - in the next few sentences.

    So why use that stupid word that I had to look up? It took me out of the story (mortal sin), and worse, since the word clearly smelled of a Gallic borrowing, and sure enough it most certainly is French in origin, made me have the even worse thought process of "Hm, I wonder where the French live in Westeros that they should be giving up all these loan words."

    The word, that name, is not a choice I would have made as a writer, and certainly not if I were going to subsequently explain what it meant through the mouth and dialogue of the character that just used it. I would have just used cell. In the context of the conversation, its meaning would be plain to anyone.

    But, I do have to admit that I am reading well outside my normal comfort zone of distant planets, spaceships, warp drives, and aliens. GRRM uses a lot of these little niche words in these books and I can only assume that the intended reader of these books (who is not me) must squeal with delight every time he or she comes across one of these obscure, inner circle words. I have to make room for the fact that the intended reader wants this, even though to me it feels like a sophomoric blunder.
     
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  4. izzybot

    izzybot Contributor Contributor

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    I have to say I wouldn't think too much about credentials either, unless it's advice specifically about publishing -- then I'd want to know that this person has experience with that process.

    But when it comes to actual writing, I think a newbie can have interesting, useful takes just like a veteran. They might need some refinement, but they also might be more out-of-the-box. I would just rely on my own experience to filter out the good from the bad.

    I guess my default reaction is to just not take advice, which ... doesn't make me sound great, I realize. But I have to be able to justify and rationalize the advice myself before I incorporate it into my process. When I was younger and less experienced, that definitely hurt me because I wasn't able to understand some things, so I discarded them even though they were actually pretty useful, but I like to think that I'm better now.
     
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  5. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    I know of whom you speak, and likewise gave her site a curious once-over.
    It's worse than you think. Did you happen to read the promo blurb advertising her novel? I've copied and pasted the third sentence to the blurb, and if you can decipher its meaning you are a better person than I!

    Thrust into an exotic and beautiful world part of a multi-millennial feud, she must decide who to trust in a society built on secrets.
     
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  6. Siena

    Siena Senior Member

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    Search Kal Bashir on youtube
     
  7. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I only seriously consider writing advice from authors who are successful (at least in their genre) and whose work I personally enjoy reading. There are so many bloggers/vloggers/podcasters out there that I can't possibly keep up, or take the time to figure out who knows what they're talking about and who doesn't. Most of the writing advice I read I find by following writers I admire on Twitter, where they will usually link to any articles or blog posts they've written regarding writing or publishing advice.

    I take the same approach to advice from experts for writing as I have in the past for dancing and for my daytime career as well - I find people who are at a place in their art or careers that I want to be at someday, and I listen to and carefully consider their advice on how to get there.
     
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  8. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Assuming you’re talking at the video I posted, I posted that video under my own authority, and I wasn’t appealing to any other. I stand by it as if I said it. If someone doesn’t like my writing, and my advice conflicts with what they like, they know my advice isn’t for them.

    It has been my experience that transcription is the fastest way to improve your ability to discern helpful from unhelpful advice. If I copy something I like, I’ll remember the style and know when advice conflicts with reality.

    Some YouTube experts give better advice, IMO, than they apply in their own writing, because they live and breathe writing advice. Coaches for any activity can know about training in ways artists and athletes might not.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
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  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    For self publishing and marketing advice Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn , Bryan Cohen, David Gaugrhan, and to an extent Paul Teague ( I say to an extent because he's not that far ahead of me so its more about learning from his successes and failures as he documents them honestly in his weekly diary podcast, rather than actual expertise)

    Nick Stephenson also has some interesting stuff to say, but I have stopped recommending him since he refused to be candid about how much of his income comes from books vs how much from his courses for authors.

    I'd also add Stuart Bache - but he's specifically about covers

    For advice on the actual writing process I'd say Joanna again, Sarah Painter, and also classics in the field such as Stephen King's on Writing
    and David Morell's the Successful Novelist (his ideas on marketing are outdated but you can't fault his writing advice)

    There are also people on this forum who's advice I'd trust, and those who I'd look at an think nah … this doesn't necessarily track with how many books they've written as its possible for someone who's only written one or two to really know their stuff or for someone who's written loads to have such a high opinion of themselves and their advice that its tiresome.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
  10. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Can you elaborate? Are you offering him as an example of someone who has authority, or doesn't have authority, or...?
     
  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I didn't see it but are we talking about Jenna ? If so its my experience that she talks a lot of sense, especially for those who are just starting out, but personally I've pretty much moved past what she's got to say to needing more advanced content

    That's not to say she doesn't know more advanced things but her video content is now a bit basic for me.

    (She is very easy on the eye though - Cliff's a lucky bloke , even allowing for the whole nearly dying thing)
     
  12. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I like Jenna and agree with her mostly. I’m prone to cliche so I really like her “10 Worst Tropes” videos lol

    I posted the Vivian Reis video.
     
  13. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know if it was your post or not (and if I'd wanted to challenge the post directly, I think you know me well enough to believe that I would have done so!)

    It was just a jumping off point for thinking about the issue in general. Like, assuming it was your video--you found that video because you were looking for writing advice, I assume. And you saw what she said and agreed with it? In which case, did her advice really help, if it just reinforced what you already believe? Or was there a different process? Like, were you not sure about her advice the first time you heard it, and then you tried it and found it to be effective? Or...?

    And I agree that coaches (and editors) can absolutely know more about teaching the how-to side of things than people who are actually doing, but most coaches and editors have credentials of some sort? They've worked their way up through the ranks, been mentored, and eventually have a string of successful athletes/writers they've worked with who would vouch for their methods. I would absolutely respect that sort of assertion of authority. But I didn't see anything like that on the quick look I took at this "writing coach"'s site, and I've certainly seen other "experts" who couldn't really demonstrate the effectiveness of their advice.

    So... I guess in terms of ways to establish credibility/authority, we're looking at:

    A) Personal achievement (well-published authors whose work we admire, etc.)
    B) Achievement of past mentees (testimonials from well-published authors whose work we admire who've worked with these people, etc.)
    C) Other?

    And it's the "other" I'm really interested in...
     
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  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I've not come across her before... I would tend to agree with Bay that its stretching things a bit to call yourself a writing coach when you've written one book.
     
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  15. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    I usually consider the intuitive nature of the advice over the credentials of the person giving it. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite author, but if he told me to stop using quotation marks and commas and to use the most archaic, esoteric language possible I wouldn't be like, "Yes, sir, right away, mr. Mcarthy, sir." But if my snowplow guy said something like, hey, you've got a pretty unique sense of humor, so you should try to filter all your writing through that, I'd be more inclined to say, "Hmmm, maybe Jethro is onto something."
     
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  16. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I never doubt your ability to say what you think. There was just something about it that made me feel like I needed to assert my own feelings to back up why I posted the video.

    Which, if you think about it, plays into some of the other things in this thread. If I had posted a video by some literary agent with five authors on the best sellers list, I probably wouldn't have bothered lol. The video I posted isn't really shored up by much other than its conviction that the style she is advocating is well liked in the echo chamber.

    I found that video so long ago that I don't remember what I took from it. I know I took a couple things because I remember having an "ah ha" moment while watching it, which is why I like it so much.

    One of the Cs, I think, is the classic, "I'm not saying anything new. Here are my sources." So the coach thinks of themselves as a sort of filter, bringing relevant data to the student. That can be dangerous, like in martial arts, sometimes a self defense teacher will say, "this is what they teach the special forces" and it will be some nutty shit that doesn't work, and would get you thrown in jail if it did.

    I've been through this kind of thing in my life before. I used to teach martial arts, but I never competed in any full contact, adult competition, and didn't have any accomplishments. It was clear that anyone could say, "yeah, but what do you know." My way around it was to tell people I was teaching, "how to spar strangers in a gym safely," which implies some other uses. We did an open sparring night once a month, which was terrifying, because sometimes nuts would come in that I would have to filter, or professional fighters would stroll in who could beat my ass sideways, and I'd need to spar them first to make sure they were safe (which they all were, because they are professionals, thankfully). Those nights were the main things that gave me credit with my students.

    That bit applies to C in a way--if you see a low level coach struggling with their own writing, and even if it isn't very good, they apply their teachings in front of you and they get better, you can safely say they are on to something.
     
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  17. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Use your own judgement. If someone, regardless of credentials, helps you a little then great!

    You’ll probably find the odd person on forums like this too. I’d recommend a writing group if you can join one.

    The best advice I can give is to teach writing to someone else (surely you have some knowhow.) By taking on the role of “teacher” you’ll come to understand that you know more than you originally thought AND learn things you’d never thought about before.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    There's a spectrum that goes from "I don't care what you say if you don't have credentials or successful relevant experience" to, "I'll listen to anybody." That spectrum fairly heavily depends on how much I trust my own ability to make judgements in the area.

    Samples of things from the strict to less strict end of the spectrum.

    - Thoroughly rule-based things, like how to format and submit a manuscript.

    - Rulings on correctness of writing by the standard formal rules of English. I may violate those rules, but I want to know what they are, and I frankly consider my own expertise to be pretty decent. So if I want to expand what I know, I need to really trust the source.

    - Information about current standard practices and styles and fashions about all sorts of things. Again, I may choose not to follow those standards, but I want to know that they're coming from some expertise.

    - Advice on style and writing strategies and what rules can be broken to what effect. I have more confidence if the person making the suggestion has expertise, but here I have a good deal of trust in my own evaluation. I'm looking for ideas here.

    - Advice on plotting and planning strategies, and writing practices and habits.

    - Creativity advice and motivation advice.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
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  19. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I've watched a lot of BookTube, and I've found a lot of great advice from new writers. That said, sometimes people say things about their authority that really affects my impression of them.

    Vivian Reis is my favorite. She was a novice when she started making videos, and would occasionally say things (basically) like, "I just got beta reader feedback on my first book, and I was doing this and this wrong, so that's what we are going to talk about. Here is how to avoid my mistake." I give her huge respect for that.

    On the flip side, this one writer claimed that their opinions were important to heed because one time they got a manuscript request from an agent. Come on.
     
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yeah that's what I like about Paul Teague's diaries - when he fucks up he's honest about it.

    I don't have a lot of time for the oh I've written eleventy books and therefore I'm a better writer and a bigger expert than xyz argument - may be yes, or may be all their books are formulaic tat stuffed with card board cut out characters, and plots so shallow you can't drown in them

    I mean Failena (of cocky gate fame) had about 15 or so books … all of which were terrible. Does that make her a bigger expert on writing than someone with one well written book ?
     
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  21. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Whatever happened to her ass and all that mess?
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    the lawsuit against Kevin Keupner and co got settled by a deal where she agreed to withdraw the trademark. I have no personal knowledge of her ass, and will be keeping it that way as although she's not bad looking I prefer not to date crazy
     
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  23. srwilson

    srwilson Active Member

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    A very good question, which I'll answer with reference to my own genre of choice: horror.


    I started by reading whatever was popular, from Poe to Lovecraft to Stephen King to Laird Barron. I decided I didn't much like the King, but fell in love with Ramsey Campbell. Then I noticed how different critics can be so different in their opinions.


    I discovered a famous and highly respected critic of supernatural horror, S.T. Joshi. Then I found out he loves Ramsey Campbell, but dislikes King and many of the writers I also found boring and mediocre. So now, I know who has GENUINE good taste, as opposed to someone who just wants to make money out of supporting the usual so called 'bestsellers' (that's right folks, being a bestseller does not mean you are a good writer, it means you have great/wealthy businessmen behind you).


    Then, I used Joshi's advice on who else to discover, and read them and examined how they write. And voila! Well, not quite, but now I know what to aim for.


    That's the best advice: find out who is good, read and study them, and practice yourself.
     
  24. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Member

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    It does in my book.
     
  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    No, it means that you wrote something that captures the public imagination. Good marketing is necessary, but not sufficient.
     

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