Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Column: A Little Advice on Advice by Cindi Madsen

I read blogs, agent websites, attend writing workshops, and am part of a critique group. All the advice I’ve gotten from doing those things have taken me to a new level in my writing. But yesterday I read a writer's post that I didn't totally agree with. I saw her point, but you can't say that a certain plot device won't ever work in any book. I used the very one she was ranting against and my critique partners and beta readers all loved the way I did it. But I had this panicky moment while reading the post even though I knew it worked for the story. Newsflash--not everyone has the same tastes.

In my critique group, I'm known as the adverb slayer. At one point, I looked up every ly word in my manuscript and tried to replace it. I was crazy about it. But people talk in adverbs, and sometimes changing the phrase took a lot more words and slowed down the pace. Sometimes you just need an adverb. (But 75% of the time, you can find a stronger verb, I promise) I read a book recently--a NY times bestseller--that used "frowned thoughtfully," "grinned bitterly," and "nodded happily" within two pages. Is it good writing? I'd say no. Could it be tightened? Sure. But hey, she's had success while I'm still trying to get my foot in the door. So . . . yeah.

So how do you know what advice to take? Well, is it from someone in the industry who represents your genre? Do more than one of your critique partners or readers feel the same about it? Do they know your genre? I have a fabulous writer friend who cheers me up whenever I'm starting to doubt myself. According to her, my instincts are good, I just need to stop doubting them. Sometimes, I do doubt my instincts. I change things or water them down because of something someone says (sometimes a virtual someone who hasn't even read my book) only to find I liked it better the first time. It was stronger the first time. And it's my book, dang it! But sometimes, the advice I get forces me to dig deeper, and the result is a stronger chapter, page, etc.

So when it comes to advice, my advice is to take the good and leave the rest. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Cindi Madsen sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to by a new pair. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children, and is a member of PPW and PPRW. You can check out her blog at

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