As a writer, I belong to several writing groups, forums, and websites. One of which is called The Writer’s Cafe. One thing that I find particularly valuable is the site’s option to allow writers to create “writing courses” and “writing lessons” that are viewable by other members. Now this site has a fairly large number of impressionable, young budding writers. Some of these young writers are gathering quite a following of other impressionable, young budding writers, which is to be expected. What concerns me is that some of these writers are posting “writing courses” that are little more than personal opinions and bad advice. This in itself is nothing to really be concerned with. What does concern me is that there are young writers following these posters, posters who have very little real world knowledge or exposure to the writing world. These same followers are taking the bad advice and opinions as gospel truth when it comes to writing.
With such concern on my mind, I wanted to explore the moral obligation of writers who are seen as mentors. I have been writing for some twenty-eight years now, but I have had no formal training besides the courses forced upon me in college and high school. I am by no means an expert on writing. What I do have, however, is twenty-eight years of wisdom at my disposal that I can share with others. I can share my thoughts, my personal experiences, tricks and tips that I have picked up, tricks that work for me, what doesn’t work for me, what I have learned from trial and error, etc. They are, of course, only opinions and personal experiences. That is not to say that what I have to share has no merit. I could certainly sit down and write an entire book on writing. My point is that what I have are opinions formulated over twenty-eight years of tried and true wisdom. For those who wish to partake of it, it may or may not help you.
My major concern is that all those young budding writers are being given bad advice and opinions, and they are too young to even realize that what their ‘mentor’ is giving them is just that…an opinion based on a very limited writing experience. For instance, one ‘writing course’ I came across written by a 16 year old has over 200 followers. In one course she told her readers to accept all criticism. While this may sound like good advice, for those of us with more writing experience, that advice makes it painfully obvious that the poster has never been exposed to hard-out, cut-to-the-bone critics whose sole purpose is to rip a piece of work to shreds. A more experienced, wiser writers knows that all criticism is not created equal. The simple advice of ‘accept all criticism’ leaves out a lot of good lessons to be learned, such as the difference between constructive and deconstructive criticism. For this poster’s 200+ followers, it is a lesson that could have spared them a lot of heartache. Unfortunately, it is a lesson they will not likely get from a 16 year old with limited writing experiences and exposure.
As a writer, I do not believe that there is necessarily a “right” and “wrong” way to write. Every writer is different and unique. What works for one will not work for another. So I do not think it would be fair to tell someone ‘if you follow these rules, you will become a better writer.’ I don’t believe anyone can make that guarantee, no matter how good they are, how many years they have been writing, or how popular they are. What I can say is that I have experience as a writer and wisdom to share. I can give you my views, I can give you some ‘universal truths’ that I have discovered over my years as a writer, and I can try to guide you along and help you find your own unique writing voice. To tell anyone anything different would be morally wrong. There is nothing that I or anyone else can tell you that will definitely make you a better writer. So take my advice for what it is: advice. And my advice is that, in the end, it is up to the individual writer to find out what works best for them.