Recently I heard a joke about a guy who went in for surgery. After he was rolled into the pre-op area, his wife trudged her way down the long haul toward the hospital cafeteria. But two steps from the cafeteria entrance, she heard her husband screaming, and she froze in her tracks. She looked down the hall to see him running toward her.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked.
He pointed at the nurse marching down the hall towards them. “I heard what she said!”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I know you’ve never been through this kind of operation before, but it’s a relatively minor procedure, so try to stop shaking. There’s a good chance everything will turn out okay.'”
The wife shook her head. “But, honey, the nurse was just trying to help you.”
His eyes went wide. “She was talking to the doctor!”
Yeah, we’d all like to know that our surgeon has been there and done that before we entrust our bodies to him. I don’t want my doctor to point to an x-ray and exclaim, “Wow! What’s that d0-hicky there?” Hardly a confidence builder.
One of the challenges of being a writer is deciding who to go to for advice. Let’s face it–and this is an uncomfortable truth–there are a few self-proclaimed experts out there on the literary landscape. Doubtless, many of them mean well and can even offer random nuggets of information that can benefit any writer. But others have never really been there and done that. And, frankly, your time as a writer is too precious to waste. The stewardship of story calls for us to carefully exercise discernment.
Thankfully there are tons of people (al though I’ve never actually weighed them) out there who bring to the proverbial table wisdom gained by the experience of having walked the road themselves. They are usually very humble people who are willing to share what they’ve learned because the respect the craft, and they genuinely want to help another writer succeed. They remember the times someone helped them in the past, and the vow they made to sacrificially do the same if they ever had the chance.
How do YOU decide who will help shape your story? How do YOU decide who to go to for advice? Any experience–good or not-so-good–you care to share (don’t mention names, please)?
True story: recently someone who knows that I’m a writer in search of publication had a chance to ask Stephen King a question by way of a chat session on a website. The question was:
“What’s the biggest piece of advice you could give to new writers?”
Stephen King answered, “I think the most important piece of advice I can give to a writer is let the characters lead and never try to force them into things they don’t want to do.”
Of course he wasn’t advising that we keep our characters out of hot water and never pour on the conflict. While I don’t have a way of asking him a follow-up question, I’m very confident that what he meant was that we have to have authentic characters…people who have personality traits and personal worldviews (i.e. philosophies of life) that stay consistent throughout the story. And these characters must be able to carry the story. Good characters take us on a journey, allowing us to see the story through their eyes.
Do you agree? Name one great character you’ve read recently.
Also, what one piece of advice would YOU give new writers?
Have you heard about the young lady who was nervous about an upcoming knee surgery? One day during a slow time at the veterinarian clinic where she worked, she reminded her boss that she’d be off work for a few days while she recovered. The she asked him if he had any advice that might help her heal faster.
He thought for a minute. “Well…get plenty of rest, and don’t lick the incision.”
It really does matter where you go for advice.
Where should a Christian writer go for advice?
It’s hard to overstate the importance of reading good books on writing. Thankfully there are many great books available (comment and leave a suggestion or two). But as useful as books can be, nothing takes the place of spending time with other writers.
American Christian Fiction Writers offers several good opportunities…from a once-a-year national conference to local chapters that meet monthly. There is also the email loop and online courses.
There is nothing better than spending time with people who have “been there and done that.” No one understands the journey better than those who’ve walked, stumbled, crawled, walked, fell, ….you get the point.
Who’s given you the best advice as a writer?