Beware of the writing expert!


Since I’m not an expert on the craft of writing, you don’t get many how-to posts from me. Generally I share my personal writing experiences and observations, or perhaps point you to someone else who has posted something brilliant. That’s what I believe aspiring writers can accomplish with their blogs – offer experiences, opinions and referrals, along with support and encouragement.

Photo credit: Graur Codrin

I’m always a little leery of what I call ‘instant experts’… people who may be self-taught and either self- or traditionally-published or still unpublished, but have made many discoveries during the process.

Writing isn’t a science. Yes, there are hundreds of books, blogs and gurus to expound on the dos and don’ts of good writing. But what one promotes as gospel, another dismisses as garbage. There are guidelines, some of which are important to know, but there are also best sellers written by people who have never followed them.

As I read the many comments on my post about cookbooks last week, I was impressed by those who suggested the value of recipes lies in the experience of those who developed them. The best cooks adjusted quantities, added pinches of flavouring, taste-tested, lowered or raised oven temperature until the product was exactly right.

Photo credit: Carlos Porto

I have a recipe for scones given to me by a member of one of our churches. Kay often brought us a bag of her fresh-made scones, along with a jar of homemade raspberry jam. Oh, what a wonderful treat that was! Those scones were indescribable! (The jam was wonderful, too.) I begged the recipe from her and carefully followed it, but I absolutely cannot get scones to taste like hers. Others have shared their not-quite-as-good recipes and offered advice, but nothing I make is quite the same. I don’t have Kay’s touch, or her knack of “not really measuring” or knowing the exact moment when they are ready to leave the oven. I wish I could intern in her kitchen… be her baking apprentice on scone-making days. I’m sure it’s the only way I could hope to learn how to make perfect scones. Either that, or spend years developing my own unique recipe.

There’s a writing analogy here. I’ll bet you can figure it out, too.

How do you distinguish between useful writing advice and advice you should ‘take with a grain of salt’? What makes a writing mentor valuable?