On Why I Might Ignore Your Writing Advice

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I love writing. And I love learning about writing. I love reading blog posts and quotes on Pinterest about writing. There is so much advice out there: how to write interesting characters, how to come up with a plot, how to create the ultimate antagonist…

It can be super helpful.

And it can also be overwhelming.

To explain, let me backtrack a little. I’m currently working on the second draft of my WIP, Devil May Care. It’s a YA sort-of-paranormal, kind-of-romance sort of thing. See? I’m so good at describing it.

The first draft was entirely free-form, written without an outline or the vaguest idea of what was going to happen next. And while I loved the experience, when I sat down to write draft two, I knew that I needed to have some sort of roadmap.

For the first 60-ish pages, I wasn’t overly concerned with definite plot structure. I knew what scenes from draft #1 I wanted to use, what new elements I needed to pull in, and that was enough. I wasn’t flying by the seat of my pants, but my plane was built of fairly shitty cardboard. It was enough to get me going, though, so I ran with it.

And then the exposition had been expositioned (wow, so not a word) and I knew I was starting to get into the meat of the story, which was great, because meat is good, but it also sucked, because my roadmap had ended. One minute, I’m following my self-made GPS’s commands, the next, I’m stranded in the middle of no where with only a bottle of water, a bag of stale Cheetos, and the knowledge that I really need to decide on a concrete plot for this monstrosity.

So I turned to the internet. A quick Google search later, I’m reading all about plot structure, how to create a plot, the parts of a plot–

And none of it is helping. In fact, an hour of skimming writing advice blogs and Pinterest infographics has convinced me that I have absolutely no hope of ever turning Devil May Care into a workable novel.

It sucked. A lot.

See, I’ve always had this idea that if I have a good premise and characters I like and a vague idea of what I want my book to say, there will also be a plot. If I think about the elements of the book I have to work with, I will eventually discover a plot. Like my WIP is a math problem and I just need to find the right formula and solve for “plot.” Like I can dump everything I created in draft one into a sifter and if I shake it enough, a nugget of plot gold will surface.

But everyone on the internet has different ideas, and they ask a lot of questions: What does your character want? What is your conflict? What is in the way of what she wants? What is The Lie Your Protagonist Believes? What is your point A and how do you get to point B? Who is your antagonist?

They’re good questions, and I know they shouldn’t be hard to answer, but they tripped me up. Not because I couldn’t think of an answer, but because I could think of too many answers. Or the answer I thought of didn’t feel “plotty” enough.

I couldn’t get my idea of the novel to fit into their molds, and it left me feeling like I’d gotten the answer wrong on a test.

Devil May Care has romance in it, but I’ve never felt like it was the central plot. On it’s most basic level, DMC is just a girl (who is a lot like me) trying to figure out who the hell she is in a society that is screaming at her to sit down, shut up, and be the person they have told her she already is. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a coming of age novel, or a bildungsroman. It’s more than that, but I’m not exactly sure how.

All I know is that the internet (well, the advice I was reading) was forcing me into a box that felt way too small for the book I wanted to write. I ended up feeling like I was doing something wrong because I didn’t have a “good” answer to their questions. I stopped writing for a weekend, overcome with doubts and anger.

But part of me realized that my idea of “good” answers were just the answers that other people would give, the answers that other books would respond with. But I don’t want to write a book that already exists, I want to write my novel.

All of this was about a week ago. Since then, I’ve actually sat down, focused on my book, and formed a plot that I like. It doesn’t exactly match the formulas the internet wanted me to use, and I’m sure I’ll change it as I go along, but I’ve got my roadmap back. And I like where it’s leading me.

I still read writing advice online. I follow a few writing advice blogs and some Pinterest boards. Most of the time, they help me focus on what I need to accomplish with my writing.

But I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to ignore their advice. Sometimes, that is the best thing you can do.

Have any of you experienced this? Do you read writing advice? How do you deal with it when someone tells you you’re doing something “wrong”?


Let’s Talk About Identity

I was asked to do this post by Lauren at Shooting Stars Mag as a part of a promotion for the movie Ask Me Anything. It is based off of the novel Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett. The IMDB page is here and the official Facebook page is here. The idea for this post intrigued me; in fact, I’d been thinking vaguely along the same lines for a little while.

The book/movie centers around a character who chronicles her life in depth on her blog. In that spirit, I’ll discuss how I approach privacy with this blog, and social media in general.

I’m a teenage girl with a smart phone and a laptop. If you think I haven’t been lectured about online safety, you’re dead wrong. I’ve gotten it from countless teachers, school assemblies, parents, practically random passersby. When I started this blog, I got even more.

I get it. This is the age of the internet, where sharing everything is seen as normal. With privacy becoming a thing of the past, no one quite knows how to interact with social media. How much is too much? As colleges and employers jump into the arena and use social media as a quick background check, anxieties rise even more.

“You know that post will never truly go away, right?”

–Every Person Ever

Personally, I don’t use social media much. I have a Facebook, but I use it mostly for school. Most of the clubs and extracurriculars I’m in use Facebook as a way to communicate with members, making not having an account basically impossible. I don’t post many pictures and I don’t think I’ve ever updated my status, but this is driven more by insecurity and a lack of exciting life events than concern about my privacy. I haven’t gotten into Twitter, Instagram, or the dozens of other social media outlets that exist currently, but this is because of laziness and my aforementioned lame life rather than for privacy issues.

I do have a Snapchat. I like how the pictures disappear as soon as they are viewed. (Whether or not you believe that is a completely other discussion, but I’m taking Snapchat at their word for this.) I post pictures to my Story occasionally (where all my friends can view it for 24 hours). Snapchat works for me because of the lack of permanence. Clearly, I’m not crazy about putting myself out there into the world.

Blogging is different for me.

I’m really comfortable posting things on this blog. I feel that I have been very honest with myself and my readers in my posts. I never get super personal, but I’m guessing if you are an obsessive stalker, you could find me. (Please don’t, though. Seriously.)

It helps that most of my readers aren’t people directly connected to my personal life. I’ve always felt more comfortable getting compliments from people who only see my work and not myself, and this blog has accentuated that. I like that this blog lives in a weird universe connected to my personal life but with no connection to the people in my life.

I have just recently given my friends and some of my family my site address. The reception has been positive, but I have definitely noticed that I have started censoring myself based on the people I know will read my posts. I hate that and I’m trying to avoid it.

Privacy with this blog involves how much of my personality, thought processes, personal opinions, and reflections I share, mainly through my writing. I don’t write about day-to-day events, so that aspect of privacy does not come into this blog. Being personal, telling the truth about the raw and emotional parts of my life, is a challenge that I force myself to meet. Typing it on my computer is the first step, posting it on this blog and getting feedback is the second, crucial step.

For me, the people close to me are more daunting that those who are far away. If you know me, you can read much more into my writing than someone who doesn’t. If I see you on a daily basis, we might talk about what I wrote. I’m still coming to terms with this level of blog-to-reality connection. I enjoy it when people respond positively to my posts, but there are some things that I want to write about but hold back on when I know who will read it.

I don’t write under a pen name. I’m Jocelyn. My sister calls me Joc (phonetically Joss). My little sisters call me Jocie. My grandfather calls me Miss J. I’m not going to put my last name on here (I doubt) and the email I have isn’t my main one, it’s one I created for school and rarely use other than for this blog. I don’t have any pictures of myself on here, but that’s again borne from a lack of good pictures than a freakish fear of being on the internet. You can see some (weird) pictures of me at my sister’s blog.

Deciding how much of my personal identity to share on this blog is made easier by the fact that I don’t really blog about my life. I blog about the books I read and the stuff I write, and of course my personal life comes up in the periphery. I’m comfortable with how much I share, but I’m always conscious of the details I put out there. Part of me is annoyed that society has me so completely stressed about minor details of my life floating around on the internet, and part of me has listened to too many lectures to tell myself it doesn’t matter.

But what I’ve discovered after almost ten months with 52 Letters in the Alphabet, is that I absolutely love blogging. I love writing about the books I read and sharing the experience with other readers. I love the community that I’ve joined. I’ll admit, the first time I was mentioned by name in regards to this blog (I think it was in a blog award) it really weirded me out. It is only recently that the phrase “Jocelyn @ 52 Letters in the Alphabet” feels familiar rather than foreign. It’s a new part of my identity, but I’m proud of it. I’m happy that I’ve connected my personal life to this blog, and I don’t want to give that up because of the general societal fear surrounding privacy on the internet.

Here’s my take on the whole issue: The internet exists. Growing up in my generation, I can’t avoid it. There are parts of my life that are unavoidably connected to the internet, there are others that I’ve willingly connected. I’m okay with this. This is the new status quo. How much is too much? I think the answer to the question needs to be an individual one, based off of confidence and extroverted-ness, rather than a fear of sharing our lives with others. The meaning of privacy is changing and we need to be aware of that. But the answer is almost never to jump ship, and we should not abandon all connection to the wonderful tool that is the internet because of a new definition of privacy.