Writing Tips for Perfectionists – Fear Formulas vs. Writing Tools

Has this ever happened to you?–you read an article with really solid writing advice.  All the tips make sense, and the author features a published book that used those techniques.  And you’re not exactly sure how to apply the advice to your work-in-progress—but you’d better figure it out.  Because if you don’t, your story will be somehow inferior.  Right?

This is called the Clever Mask of Insecurity Syndrome, and I used to suffer from it frequently.  It’s not a passion to learn about the craft of writing as much as frantic fear that you MUST apply the writing advice in ALL the articles you read.  Or else your story will stink.  The article authors are published, or they cite published authors who used the techniques–either way, all those authors know how to tell a good story, or else they wouldn’t be in print, right?  And if the writing advice makes sense, you’d be a fool not to take it.

The problem with this reasoning is that other writers, even skilled, published ones, don’t necessarily know what techniques will work for your story.  Suppose you come across an article explaining how to write in a thrilling, cinematic style.  But if your story’s scope and style is like the Arthurian legends and the Mabinogion–you’re better off analyzing Howard Pyle’s books or Tolkien’s and Stephen Lawheads’s stories.  The techniques that work for a modern thriller just won’t work for an old-style saga.  (If anything, it might create dissonance and pull readers out of the fictional world!)

I’m not saying to reject all writing advice out of hand.  Just make sure you understand what story you’re telling: the conclusions, the themes, the styles.  Everything that makes it what it is and that makes it original.  Techniques and writing advice are simply tools, and not all tools will work for your story.  You’ll gain a good understanding of what tools work for your novel the more you write and the more you research!

2 thoughts on “Writing Tips for Perfectionists – Fear Formulas vs. Writing Tools

  1. That is such a great point! I think that it can be hard for us as writers to differentiate between our stories and the tools we use to build our stories. We shouldn’t make our stories work around the tools, we should make sure we use tools tailored to our stories. Tools can be incredibly helpful and we couldn’t do a lot without them, but if you are trying to cut a piece of lumber in half with a screw driver or embroider a cushion with a hammer you will not accomplish what you want to!

    • Christine Eyre says:

      Thank you so much! Yes, it can be hard to judge which tips and techniques to use—we want our stories to be the best they can be! But they’ll be the best they can be through the writer’s discernment, not a “USE ALL THE THINGS!” mentality. 🙂 Ooh, I love your analogies–and your point that “we shouldn’t make our stories work around the tools.” Spot on!

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