April 24, 2013

If driving advice were written by cops like writing advice is written by lit agents

I really should have learned by now. Every day I see a tweet or facebook post about great writing advice, and I click through it. Nine times out of ten, my time would have been better served by viewing funny crap posted by my friends on facebook. The tenth time is that very worst of the worst, "writing advice from literary agents."

I've been reading these blogs and articles for more than a decade. But hope springs eternal, right? Positivity is one of my top five strengths, so I always believe there will be something useful in the next article. Something that will help my writing.

Writing advice from agents, however, tends toward the patently obvious, delivered with the knowing smile of the inside joke. "Don't have the main character die at the end of page one," they'll say, or "Starting with describing the sunrise for sixty-seven pages can sometimes turn me off." Or maybe, "I'm not fond of serial killer rapists with no redeeming characteristics as the hero of a novel. That can be a difficult one to sell."

Honestly, if you need this advice, then maybe you should consider another line of work.

If law enforcement and emergency personnel were to offer driving and safety advice of the same caliber, we might see something like this:

On Driving
"I really think it's best not to drive up the exit ramp at full speed into oncoming traffic." -- officer Chip Chipster

"Try not to fall asleep on the highway. That rarely ends up well." -- ambulance driver A. Sisting

"Some new drivers think they can just speed right through the middle of a hazmat spill. I'm telling you, flaming oil or fresh nuclear waste or raw sewage is really not good for your tires, and it can throw your whole trip off right from the beginning." -- officer Chase N. Ketchum

"When driving in town, it's best to avoid running into trees and other fixed, stationary objects." -- officer Kaman Getme

On Home Safety
"I recommend not hanging your clean laundry over an open flame like your gas stovetop or a hot barbecue." -- fireman Blaze Douser

"I really hate it when people try to dry their wet pets in the microwave. You'd be shocked at how often this happens." -- contractor Bill D. Haus

"I'd recommend not throwing ten thousand thumbtacks on the floor next to your bed before you go to sleep. Really, even five thousand is a bad idea." -- homeowner Ken U. Diggit

"Everyone should put their money in the bank. It's not that great an idea to pile all your cash on the front porch." -- financial advisor Linda Dollar

"I know it's tempting to just have one easy-to-remember password, but really you shouldn't have it be 'password.' That's just asking for trouble." -- information security consultant Ida Hakdit

"Cleaning out the electrical outlets with metal tweezers is not advised." -- electrician Lotta Watts

Why do they do it?
Every time--I mean EVERY TIME--I read an article or see a panel of several literary agents each asked to provide a nugget of advice to writers, the advice is of that quality. What shocks me is how many people share the article over social media as if it were some collection of revolutionary ideas in literature.

I know many of these agents. I've heard them give great presentations, seen them give terrific critiques. They know the business, and they know the craft. Why do they insist on these cheesy, useless puffballs instead of something actually useful?

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