Mid-career writing advice


One of the topics going around right now is advice for writers who are “mid-career.” Check out Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Sherwood Smith, John Scalzi, and Jessica Reisman. And that’s just skimming the surface.

First let me state this: I don’t qualify as a “mid-career” writer. I haven’t been publishing long enough, only have one book out (soon to be remedied!) and need to fail or succeed more.

However! Looking over these posts, I can’t help but wonder why advice for a mid-career writer has to be so idiosyncratic, while advice for new/trying-to-break-in authors is so general.

Yeah, I know, there are some basic things to learn. Follow guidelines. Don’t be a crazy jerk. Write better.

Those are basics, and they shouldn’t really take up a few million words of blog postings and internet articles, but they do. When I was trying to break in (yesterday? last week? seems more recent than that) I read the same things over and over again. Sure, sometimes I’d find advice that flipped the on switch for the invisible light bulb over my head, but usually it was same same same same same same same.

I dunno. Maybe I’m an unusual case, because I spent a lot of time searching out craft advice and inside tips on publishing norms. A lot. It didn’t take long for every issue of Writers Digest to seem identical to the last. I’ve abandoned several message boards and blogs because people kept having the same damn conversations over and over. It was all general, basic stuff and I was hungry for something that addressed my own particular problems.

(Digression: One thing that struck me as nutso was the length of time some people needed to absorb those basics. Some people were so resistant to instruction that they had to be told over and over how things work, and often still refused to adapt their thinking.)

Eventually, after years of learning from others, I started looking for answers inside myself. That’s when I started to really do good work. I’d internalized the basics and I knew how to put them into action. It’s not enough, not really, to make my books as good as I want them to be, but I’m not looking to other people for answers anymore.

Anyway, to sum up: Yes, mid-career writers need individualized advice that won’t apply to everyone. But new writers and writers trying to break in professionally need the same thing, once they get past a few basics.