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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

Ask Ann-Marguerite™: Should I Take Writing Advice?

Monsieur Calvin is not what one would call portly, but neither is he the definition of lean. He is short, stocky, with broad shoulders always hunched and thick arms always folded atop his desk. In my few scant meetings with him, I have never seen him in any other position. He slouches over his letters, newsprint, and drafts, eyeglasses tilted at an angle and smoke puffing from his cigarette. His voice is low, almost menacing, as though modeled after the villainous troll in a classic fairytale. True, though he might have rattled me some when first we met to discuss my advice column, he since has proven to be a kindly middle-aged man, if not gruff in appearance.

His mustaches twitches when I walk in this morning, the only movement betraying his knowledge of my presence—although it would have been incroyable if he did not hear me clomping down the hall in my three-inch heels.

“Come, sit. We have much business to talk, mon amie.” He motions to the chair before him, taking a draw on his cigarette as he straightens several papers. As I sit, arranging my skirt, he fishes out a letter and fairly tosses it at me. It misses my outstretched hands and nearly tumbles to the floor, granting me only a second to lean over and grab it before it lands on the hideous grey carpet—which, come to think of it, could stand to be vacuumed.

M. Calvin is scowling when I rise, brows tucked into a v above narrowed eyes.

D’accord, he is gruff in more than appearance.

“Is something the matter?” He has only really asked to meet me once. I have stumbled into his office and demanded an audience, and we have passed each other on the streets, but otherwise there has been no reason to speak with me in person.

Therefore, something is wrong.

“You have only one letter, and I would not think it a good question to ask you. Read it and tell me what you think. You may not be writing in the column this week.”

I finger the envelope, lifting the opened seal and extracting the small piece of stationery paper. “How do I need to get the word out about the column?” The slip is decorated with pink roses and scented with lavender. Mignon, but I cannot be certain the words scrawled within will be of any merit, if what M. Calvin said is of any consolation.

“Marketing is of no consequence, ma cherie.” M. Calvin lets out a stream of smoke, leaning forward on his desk with elbows planted on either side of his typewriter. “There are few writers like yourself anymore, and surely half of them would not be turning to the local newsprint for quality advice.”

I ignore the jab against the caliber of my advice and the obvious disregard for my services, unfolding the paper and scanning the handwritten words.

Bonjour, Ann-Marguerite! I love to write and I have begun a novel, but I wonder if I should be taking advice from my friends and other authors. I have read several things that specifically state what I should be doing to grow as a writer, and I find I am not doing a single one of them. Is it wrong that I disregard other advice?

Merci for your help,

A Wondering Writer

My head jerks up to M. Calvin’s perpetual frown, a grimace of my own shadowing my face. “You call this a pas bien question? Monsieur, this is the very sort of question I love! Non, I will be writing this week, of that you can rest assured.”

I rose from my chair, a reply immediately forming. I bid the editor goodbye and march from his office, and all down the hall I am plotting my response.

Dear Wondering Writer,

You have posed the perfect question! Non, there is nothing wrong at all with following your heart. You have accepted the call to write without hesitation, you have embraced the desire with passion, and you are embarking upon a life-long journey that will alter you forever. Do not plan your journey according to what others say or what publishers and authors dictate.

Just as everyone goes their own route in life, so does each writer take different turns. Some create worlds and languages, relying upon feverish creativity. Others carefully plot each step in a mystery, scheduling every event, every chapter, and every hour of their day down to the last sentence. Others still live in a féerie full of romance and laughter, writing on a whim whenever they please, to bring stories of hope and joy to life.

Of course, it is perhaps hypocritical of one giving advice to advise not to take advice, but that is not entirely what I mean. Learn what you need to learn, for not every author needs a rigorous schedule that might staunch their creative flow. Decide for yourself, as some authors do not function in wild, sporadic bursts of inspiration. Some advice pertains to you, while some does not. Comprenez-vous?

The publishing industry is comprised not of writers but of marketers. They want books written that fit a criteria they can sell; therefore, their advice would not help you write the story you are meant to tell. Other authors have only been down their path, and so they only speak from their personal experience. Not every love story is the same. Neither is every writing journey.

Writing is an art, for which there cannot be rules or set guidelines. Most advisors attempt to strategize and carefully outline exactly how your writing process or your writing itself should be. Dictatorship or rules inhibit creativity, rendering your writing lifeless, uninspired, and a cookie-cutter representation of what has been told to you.

I need not say it again, but your question can separate into specific inquiries. Should you be writing a novel as your first project? Most say non. If, however, you can handle the pressure, write however long a story you want! Be aware that your first story will not be perfect. It may never be completed, never meet your expectations, never be published, never sell. It is a risk you must take, as true a gamble as any other.

Should you write this particular thing in this particular manner? I do not know. Only God can tell you, for He is the one fueling you and inspiring you and giving you this story. His is the guiding hand, so follow Him above anyone else. Man shall let you down, every time.

But the Lord is steadfast and sure. Trust in Him, His advice, and His purpose for you and your writing.

Should you take writing advice? Honestly, I would say not to. The advice out there contradicts itself as it is. Here am I, advise against advice. That should tell you something.

Do not feel discouraged, mon ami, for disregarding advice or not following the rules. Instead, be encouraged by your faith in God’s plan for your life, your writing, and even the 300,000-word novel everyone says you’ll never finish.

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