The Limited Value of Information

I was thinking about this the other day as I shelved yet another writing advice book: Information only has value to the extent that you remember it or know where to find it.

There were some great passages of advice in Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer.  My copy is full of little flags noting where there’s a great comment or quote or resource I should check out.

Problem is, I just put that book on my shelf and who knows when I’ll look at it next.  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was great, too.  And On Writing by Stephen King.  And Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  And Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

They ALL had great information in them.  And each one is either flagged or underlined throughout.

But I can’t tell you right now what I flagged or underlined in any of them.

So, what value do those great passages have for me?  Some have sunk their way into my unconscious and now will influence how I write or approach writing.  But others comments probably require a few more readings to stick.  Which means that, right now, those great passages have no value to me.

I should go through and pull all of that information into another document.

That’s why I have a 36-page-long quotes document after all–to store all the great quotes I’ve run across over the years.

(The latest one: “I sell my soul, but at the highest rates.”–Harlan Ellison)

But that takes time.  Like everything else does.  So, do I take hours to type up quotes from writing advice books or do I just hope that some of the key points stay with me and occasionally go back to the books and surprise myself with what I didn’t remember I’d already learned?

This also goes for story ideas.  I’ve been trying to keep an ideas file where I record any idea or phrase that I think would be useful for my writing.  Problem is, if I don’t go back and read the document, it doesn’t do me any good.

I printed it and read through it last week because I wanted to write one more teenage-oriented short story for one of the Quirky Quickies collections.

There were all kinds of interesting ideas in there that I’d completely forgotten about!

At least I know I have plenty of options if I ever get true writer’s block.  (As opposed to writer’s ennui, which is what I seem to actually get.)

Anyway.  Random thought for the day.

I really should be writing.  My goal for this week is 20,000 words, so I need to get cracking on it.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to The Limited Value of Information

  1. I generally think if you can write and have the ability you will read books and improve and develop or you can try reading how other writers write, but ultimately their way is not my way or your way. There are always nuggets of wisdom in guide books but they think they do more than they do in that we cannot be how the writer is trying to tell us to be as we are not them.
    Not to say they aren’t useful but often over emphasised – there were no guidebooks for Dostoevksy etc but they wrote anyway 🙂

    • mhleewriter says:

      Agreed that we each have to find our own path, which is why I never take anyone’s opinion about what should be done as fact.

      But there are only so many hours in each day and might as well learn from the experience of those who have spent years on this already so that I don’t have to spend years of my life to discover what they already know.

  2. dana mentink says:

    Very true. I also find if I don’t try a strategy or tip right away, I’m likely to forget all about it!

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