Everyone has their writing advice, and usually I end up thinking it could be shorter. Like, write and read more. And try not to be a jerk.
As much as it's been a part of my life—writing programs, teaching, etc.—I tend to rebel against the thought that I have any advice on writing worth transmission. Because trust me: I do not have this figured out.
I remember reading one of those "Cultivating Thought" essays you find on a Chipotle cup or bag. It was Aziz Ansari writing about our tendency to over-research things, in this case, a toothbrush. He tells it with a bit more humor, but his point: We've become obsessed with breaking things apart, dissecting and compartmentalizing the world, of having all knowledge—however meaningless or pointless—at our fingertips at all times. Reviews, ratings, specs. The Consumer Enlightened. The idea felt familiar. I had just spent two months vigorously researching a coffee grinder to purchase. Yes. A coffee grinder. Every day. For two months. It made me wonder if technology—if our increased desire to analyze—stunted, more than benefited, my ability to be discerning.
The same goes for writing. Or at least, the same goes for writing sometimes. I've noticed more and more our attempts to create the perfect "formula" for good writing. Maybe it's a byproduct of writing programs—of the commitment to the idea that you can teach good writing. (And you certainly can, to some degree.) The downside is that it pushes teachers—writers—to neatly package the product, to figure out the "Keys to Success" and then to regurgitate them as easily consumed strategies, or advice, for successful writing. It's not inherently bad—this is the basis for teaching a skill in almost any setting. It works, too. But then, what's lost?
It diminishes, on some level, our ability as writers to trust ourselves. To be discerning as individuals. With all the lists, advice, craft essays, rules, etc. at your fingertips, it's difficult to simply write—to explore storytelling on the page. I don't want all writers following the same flow-chart for success. I want a thousand different stories from a thousand voices. And to have that, you have to ignore advice, to a degree. You have to be un-influenced. You have to be you, for better or worse.
I guess I'm hoping there's still something out there, beyond the academic machine (that I still love), some magic we all missed, invisible and stupid and unnamed, that swirls around and possesses a girl holding a pen, or me, when I sit down to write a story. I want to believe there's still something that can't be taught, that can't be reviewed or advised or retold—some mystical ghost discovered by each writer at the moment they write, saying: Here is the story. Now write it.