Get seriously inspiring writing tips delivered to your inbox Join my author mailing listJoin my author mailing list

Shallow or Deep?

Writing advice test part 2

Writing advice and what to do with it

I’ve been talking about writing advice, how you sort the wheat from the chaff, and how you know where to start. Basically, what to do with the Creative Writing adages out there like ‘write what you know’ or ‘write every day’ or any specific advice you receive. If you haven’t read part one, hop over to it here, otherwise, I give you writing advice test number two:

Writing advice test number two

You’re ‘in the arena’ taking advice from other writers who are down there with you, but that advice could still be contradictory and presented in unhelpful ways – I’ve written about that before here – and it may not apply in your particular situation, writing journey stage or life context. What do you do? Here’s what I suggest.

Often writing advice – the very advice that could change our lives or make a big difference to our writing careers – is presented as if the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ For example, is ‘write every day’ good advice? Yes or no? Is ‘show not tell’ good advice? Yes or no? Is ‘send out three chapters to agents before you’ve written the rest of the book’ good advice? Yes or no? What about ‘put that novel in a drawer and work on another one’? Good advice? Yes or no?

This doesn’t only apply to often repeated writing adages, it also applies to specific advice someone might give you about your situation or because you’ve shared your work with them.

A ‘one of two options’ deal

What I’m getting at is that writing advice – like life advice in general – is often presented as if it is a binary, a ‘one of two options’ deal, you’re either going to do this or that. You either write every day or you don’t. You either show or tell. I believe this is a big thinking error. Any time we are presented with this kind of deal – a binary paradigm – the question or the premise itself must be reductive. There are always more than two options. Think about it. There are so many opinions, things, people, experiences in the world. Without involving – at the very least – context and journey stage (which I talk about in part one), a writing question cannot have a yes or no, or this or that answer.

Go shallow or deep

So here’s test number two. Instead of yes or no, go shallow or deep. Is shallow or deep a binary paradigm? Sort of, but not really. I’ll come to that in a minute. Here’s what you do:

  1. First of all, turn the advice into a question.
  2. Then, instead of asking ‘yes or no’, go shallow or deep. I show you how to do that below.

By the way, you can translate ‘yes or no’ advice into a shallow or deep question for yourself, even if you don’t end up engaging with the person who gave you the advice. And, importantly, think of ‘shallow or deep’ like two ends of a swimming pool. Don’t attach judgement to either.

For example, take the often-cited advice ‘don’t compare yourself to other writers.’ Turn it into a question, for example: ‘should I compare myself to other writers?’ Instead of answering ‘yes or no’, go shallow or deep, as follows.

Should I compare myself to other writers?

Shallow equates to the quick answer, one that doesn’t take too much thinking about. It may also be strategic, a quick way to get you closer to where you want to be. You can usually add ‘Next!’ on the end of your answer as you put the idea out of your head and move onto the next thing.

With our example ‘should I compare myself to other writers?’ The shallow answer could be: I won’t do that because I’m me, on my own unique journey. Next!

Deep equates to deep thinking, considering context, making connections to other ideas. You can usually add ‘The next stage is x’ on the end of your answer as you prepare to take the idea further.

With our example, the deep answer could be: There are plenty of successful writers in the world, several of whom have shared the story behind their successes and failures. What can I find out? Will it change how I feel about my own writing career? The next stage is researching the careers of writers I admire.

Why ‘shallow or deep’ isn’t really a binary paradigm

Here are the reasons why ‘shallow or deep’ doesn’t operate as a binary paradigm – a reductive either / or deal.

  1. Because you can go shallow AND deep. In other words, decide on the shallow answer and the deep answer and then decide which is best for you right now. Which of the above answers to ‘should I compare myself to other writers?’ do you prefer, for instance? You could change your mind later.
  2. Because of the swimming pool metaphor. You can always ask yourself whether it’s possible to go even deeper, or whether you’d rather simply be sitting on the side, splashing your legs in the pool.
  3. Because it’s not ‘yes or no’. You don’t have to reject the advice wholesale OR accept it wholesale. Take what you need.
  4. Because going deep usually produces several answers.

Add further questions (and stir)

Because we’re moving away from binary thinking, let’s add further questions, especially if this is a piece of writing advice that keeps coming up for you (a sign that your mind wants you to look into it). Additional questions might include one or more of the following, for instance:

  • What’s another way of thinking about this?
  • What’s the opposite opinion or option?
  • What if I turned this on its head?
  • What are the problems with this approach?
  • What would X (person you admire) say about this?
  • How would this work in practice?
  • Is there a third option?
  • What real world examples can I come up with?
  • What’s likely to happen if I think like this?

In summary

So there you have it, the ‘arena test‘ and the ‘shallow or deep test’. Here are these two writing advice tests in a nutshell:

  • Are you in the arena? Are they?
  • Check your context and your journey stage. How does the advice match up?
  • Turn the advice into a question and instead of answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’, go shallow or deep.
  • Remember the swimming pool.
  • Add further questions where necessary.

Let me know how you get on in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

P.S. You can still get your hands on these two free writing courses – Writing for Beginners and How to Make Money From Your Writingcheck them out here.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.