whistling against the wind

Sometimes, for your own sanity, you have to stop reading “How To” articles and blogs and go away somewhere else in your mind for awhile. Really. Stop reading. Save yourselves. You can always pick them up again in a week or a month or a year. You won’t miss anything of importance. It will all be recycled endlessly again and again and again.

This is somewhat related to today’s quote of the day.

1. All writing lists are highly subjective. Including this one.

They tell you more about what the writer of the list has found useful than about what will be effective in your own process. This is true even of professionals with a long track record. There are exceptions to this as in all things, and humor is always an exception, but many top ten lists are about speaking forcefully and eschewing all counter-argument. The absolute and incontrovertible fact is, there is no right way to do the process of writing, there is only what is effective for the individual; i.e., that which helps you put words on paper/screen on a regular and ongoing basis.

2. Many people can teach you to be a better writer.

Proper use of grammar, the basics of classic story structure, putting of sentences together in a fashion which is less clunky can even be taught by some top ten lists. Some, in fact, are brilliant. However, only you can hone your craft, and no one can teach you how to find your own individual style. Once you have received the basics from others, you’re going to have to do most of the heavy lifting yourself, and that means writing and purging and purging and writing and writing and purging…

3. Top ten lists are a quick and easy way to fill up a blog post or otherwise make a deadline.

Sometimes they mean no more than that.

4. Even people with little to no publishing record, or a sketchy one at best, feel no compunction about taking off into the countryside with top ten lists.

The Top Ten Things Every Writer Should Know, The Top Ten Writing Myths, The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About Top Ten Writing Advice Lists. I rest my case.

5. Many outliners—those who outline all stories before writing them—will tell you it’s the only way to be an effective and successful writer.

Pantsers—those who make their stories up as they go—will point to a long list of successful writers who are pantsers. Some outliners will say those successful writers who call themselves pantsers are lying. Believe whichever side pleases you. It doesn’t matter as long as your method helps you put words on paper/screen on a regular and ongoing basis.

6. Pantsers will sometimes tell you that the only way to be a true artiste is to be an organic writer; i.e., make your stories up as you go along.

Outliners will point to a long list of successful writers who are outliners. Don’t believe either side. Or, rather, believe both. Artistry is in the eye of the beholder, and more importantly, in the heart of the writer.

7. Writing a top ten list is a great way of procrastinating in other areas.

It’s about this point in every list that the compilers begin to realize that coming up with one of these things is not quite as easy as they thought. They begin padding the content and reaching hard for bullet points. Sometimes they list the entries in opposite order, with the top and strongest reason being last, in hopes of hiding the padding from the reader.

8. Some list makers like to speak in self-congratulatory absolutes.

But no one, no one does absolutism better than me. Never forget that. And never begin sentences with But or And.

9. Top ten lists like to bandy the word “pro” around quite a bit.

The implication being that if you can’t see the absolute wisdom being promulgated by the list it’s because you’re a rank amateur.

10. As a writing instructor of mine once said, “Avoid clichés like the plague.”

Top ten lists are a blogging and workshop cliché. They’ve been so overused that each new one adds to the overall ineffectiveness of the whole species. The best of them don’t try to overreach and may actually do some good. The worst spread more confusion in new writers as they are often contradictory and dismissive of Anything Not Me. You know that grain of salt people are always talking about? Take it whenever you see a top ten list on the horizon.

If I was giving serious advice here, I’d say something like, “Make a sincere and concerted effort to learn the basics of story structure and grammar, get yourself some good critiquing partners or join a writers group, listen to and selectively take the advice they give you, and keep writing. That’s the only list you really need to know.”

Of course, that’s a self-serving and absolutist statement, too, so…