The Worst Writing Advice I’ve Received

 

Everyone has gotten written advice that hurts more than it helps.  It’s the worst writing advice.

One of the best things about starting out as a writer is there are so many resources to help you.  This website for example!

One of the crummy things is how much bad advice there is.  This website for example!

Below are some common tips I’ve heard.  I didn’t find any of these helpful, but if they worked for you, great.  That’s the fun thing about writing, different things work for different people.


Worst Writing Advice # 1. Write 1000 words a day

Stephen King started this in his novel “On Writing”.  It’s a great book, but everyone takes this advice literally, and it sets up false expectations on what you can and should accomplish.  You end up feeling like a failure because you don’t hit an arbitrary goal.

What the advice should say:

Try to do something associated with writing every day.  It might be writing, it might be reading about writing, it might be sharing this blog with your friends, it might be reading a book.

Anything you do in the service of writing counts.

Eventually you have to put pen to paper, there’s no getting around that, but you need to find the rhythm that fits into your life.

For example, during the week, I fight crime as a caped avenger called “Pipe Hitting Masked Lunatic.”  My whole thing is wearing a mask and hitting crime with a pipe wrench.

pipe wrench fight.jpg

Piiiiipe wrennnnnch fiiiiiight (pipe wrench fight!)

I get beat up a ton, so most of my week is spent in the hospital, struggling to breathe through crushed lungs.

It means my best writing time is the weekends.  I tend to write around the edges during the week and then go on 2,000 – 4,000 word marathons on the weekend.  It the style that works the best for me.

Worst Writing Advice #2. Write what you know

But I don’t know anything!

The only thing I know is the sound a pipe wrench makes when it firmly connects with a human skull (it’s like if you filled an ostrich egg with ground beef and dropped it into a bathtub filled with one inch of water)

I suppose I also know how to rebuild an airplane using kitchen utensils.

Neither of those are a great premise for a novel, unless I’m writing about a guy who gets in a plane crash in an Ikea and outside there are werewolves and then he can only fight with a pipe wrench and the book is called “Wereplane: Pipe Wrench for One” and holy shit that’s a fantastic idea.

PIPE wrench.jpg

It goes to show, you’ll never know when inspiration will hit

Sorry, where was I?

The idea behind this one is that if you write about things you’re already good at and knowledgeable about, that joy and expertise can’t help but make its way into your writing.

What the advice should say:

Write what you like.

Meaning, if you like fantasy, write fantasy.  If you like true crime, write true crime.  Whatever genre you’ve spent the most time with and enjoy the most, write that.  You’ll be an expert on the tricks of the genre and you’ll avoid falling into the cliches.

Now, if you can fit some of your own personal expertise in there, so much the better.  But being an expert on the topic is not a requirement to write about it.

Worst Writing Advice #3. Show, don’t tell.

God, what does this one even mean?  I should do a whole article on this alone.

This isn’t bad advice exactly, but I find that the people who are most likely to give the advice don’t know what it means or how to use it.  Go spend some time on /r/writing in reddit and almost every piece of feedback contains this advice.  I have always found this to be vague and unhelpful

What the advice should say:

Your story should be told through your main character.

It doesn’t mean your character can’t sometimes say “I feel sad.” because that might be appropriate to the paragraph.  More than anything, it means your character should have an opinion on what’s happening and why.  And that’s how you tell your story.   You don’t have distance, you interpret every action through your main character.

Worst Writing Advice #4. Every day, bath in the tears of unpublished authors

I get it, the more tears you can expose yourself to, the more powerful your writing becomes.  It’s simple math.

The hardest part of this advice is finding enough tears to bathe in.  They are not easy to catch and many unpublished authors get very angry when you burst into their house and demand they cry into a bucket.

What the advice should say:

Gently rub the tears of unpublished authors into your skin to maintain a healthy, vibrant glow.

Tears of unpublished authors.jpg

Maybe she’s born with it

Worst Writing Advice #5. You must be in a writers group

Sorry, traditional wisdom!  I don’t buy it.

When I started writing, I followed every piece of advice like I was completing a bingo card.  Creating a writing space?  Check.  Buy a cray supercomputer to handle all the raw, untamed writing you’ll be doing?  Check.  Quit your job and plunge your family into immediate and crippling financial ruin?  Done and done.

I also joined a writing group because everyone told me I should.  You know what?  It sucked.  You know why it sucked?  Because everyone in the group was a worse writer than me.

To be clear – I am not a good writer.  I’m raw and unpublished and all over the map.  I’m still learning.  But if you’re joining a writing group, you better make sure that the people in the group have a modicum of skill.

Worst Writing Advice

I’m going to leave this right here

Put it this way.   If you were learning to play piano, would you join a group to take advice from people who literally didn’t know how to play?  It makes no sense.

I’m sure there are many wonderful writing groups out there filled with lovely people.  But don’t feel obligated to join the nearest group because everyone tells you it’s mandatory


 

Do you have your own worst writing advice?  Let me know in the comments!



Categories: How to write

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1 reply

  1. Great post. I really liked ‘Anything you do in the service of writing counts.’ I whined for years about WANTING to be a writer but held back, fearful that anything I wrote would be no good and not having the foggiest clue what I wanted to write ABOUT. One day my son said to me “Mom, just WRITE. Forget about the form…just start putting your words to paper and the form will eventually define itself.” That’s the day I started my blog…

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