Monday, October 15, 2012

Dealing with Conflicting Advice

"Always begin your synopsis with your elevator pitch."
"Always begin a synopsis with the conflict."
"One good way to start a synopsis is to describe each character."
"Begin your synopsis by clearly stating the genre."

Conflicting advice gives everyone headaches. Usually, this has to do with the sad fact that there's no right answer, and even if there were, there's no way for the inexperienced to know what it is.

If there's no right answer, though, there's no shortage of wrong answers. Never including a conflict, for example, is a wrong answer when it comes to writing a synopsis. So is using poor grammar, or writing backwards, or using gold and green ink.

Sometimes the only way to learn is through experience, personal trial-and-error to see what works. It's long, it's irritating, it's arduous, and a hundred million people are rubbing their temples over the same thing right now. You're not alone.

People try to make it easier by sharing their own advice, the knowledge they've collected by trying the process themselves. The problem is, different things work for different people. That's why there's so much conflicting advice.

In the end, you just have to buckle down and try a few different variations of the same thing, until you find one that works for you. Choose a piece of advice that comes from several sources and seems to have good results from others, and see if it works for you. If it doesn't, try something else.
This runs from query letters to synopses to manuscripts to job applications. Sometimes you'll have to pick up a part-time or two or three to make ends meet while you wait for a full-time job to open up, or that advance to arrive. It sucks. I know; I've done it. The sheer level of exhaustion is something that has to be experienced to be believed, and the idea that you still have to do something else when you get home is a mind-numbing horror that makes you want to curl into the fetal position and cry for a week. Even if it's the very thing that might get you out of your three part-time jobs. Some days it just won't get done. But other days it will, and it's those days you have to focus on.
At some point, through persistence and trial and error, you'll find what works for you. Maybe it'll be like magic. Maybe it'll be something you thought was a failure and were sure would never work, but then did. And you'll stand on the mountain and shout out what it was that worked for you, because no one should have to deal with the frustration you've been through.

And one day, maybe someone will stop by your mountain, and discover that what works for her is what worked for you, too.

The best way to deal with conflicting advice is to choose what you think will work for you and try it yourself. You'll never please everyone, but you can please yourself, so start there. And if it doesn't work, try something else.

What kinds of conflicting advice have you had to deal with in the past? How did you deal with it?


  1. Great post! You're right, there's bucketloads of conflicting advice out there, and I agree wholeheartedly with your bottom line. We're all different, and different things work for different authors. I touch on that a bit on my own blog today, as well (mainly dealing with the outline versus no outline debate).

    I think there are too many folks out there who, while meaning well, seem to think that their way is the right way. But publishing is a crazy business, and the right way is different for everyone.

    1. I've tried and tried the outline method, and sadly never succeeded as well as I do without one. Always wished it would work for me! Sometimes it would just be easier if there were one right way... oh, well! "Crazy business" is right! At least with so many differences, it's always interesting!