The Worst Writing Advice

The Worst Writing Advice

The Worst Writing AdviceNot long ago, I gave my followers from Twitter and Facebook a chance to sound off on the best writing advice they’ve ever received. This week, I flipped the question on its head, and asked you all to report on the worst writing advice you’ve ever received.

Some of it ranged from discouraging comments to bits that perhaps are specific only to some of us. Following are the pick of the litter!

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Age Limits

“No one has anything to write or should attempt to write before they are 40.”—Holly Heisey

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Audience

“Don’t worry about your audience, just write for you. It sounded good at first, but it really isn’t good advice at all!”—Melissa Powell Ortega

“Don’t write something unless you think it’s marketable.”—Alisa Hope Wagner

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Bad Writing

“There are always editors.”—William Price

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Discouragement

“Stop writing.”— @jesterhay

“Don’t waste paper.”—Nora Spinaio.

“Not quite writing advice, but when I told my college advisor (when I was an English major) that I didn’t want to teach or go to law school or grad school, he suggested I change majors. Um…”—Becky Levine

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Inspiration

“If you wait long enough inspiration will come. Wrong! Best advice: Start writing. If you are lucky inspiration will sneak in.”—@JudyBorger

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Non-Advice

“How about no advice at all. Until I got Internet, getting an opinion or a drop of advice out of someone was like pulling teeth with a pair of pliers.”—Anna L. Walls

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding the Rules

“Boldly break all the rules.”—Tanya Dennis

“Follow all the writing rules.”—T. Anne Adams

“‘You have to follow all the writing rules.’ A good writer told me that, but that squelches a lot of creativity. Rules are good, but not absolute when writing.”—Sarah Holman

Your Worst Writing Advice Regarding Writing What You Know

Write what you know. If I wrote about what I know, my books would be pretty boring!”—@righter1

“Write what you know. I don’t think this is good advice because we learn as we write/research/etc.”—Nora Spinaio

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? Have you ever heard any of the above and lived to regret it? Disagree with anything? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Mine was the “write what you know” but the other advice is bad as well. Don’t listen to it, people!

    Great post. I don’t know why I don’t visit your wonderful site more often… guess it’s because I listen to my own unhealthy advice.

    CD

  2. Well, it was more like a warning…”when you get published, be prepared to lose most of your friends. They will be jealous and mad you don’t have time for them anymore.” Uh, I don’t think so.

  3. @Clarissa: Our own advice is usually some of the best on the subject. Our gut is rarely wrong about a story. The trick is just figuring how to understand what it’s trying to tell us!

    @Jan: Sounds like that person isn’t acquainted with the marvelously friendly writer community.

  4. This isn’t advice as much as it is discouragement. I turned in a chapter of my fantasy novel for one of my creative writing classes (the professor said I could) and basically the only comments I got back were, “Great dialogue but I really hate this genre mainly because I can’t understand why people write since it seems like purely escapism.” Ah well, he still gave me an A and agreed to sponsor my honors thesis… which is another fantasy novel… lol

  5. The first was absolutely the worst.
    Says the under 21 year old

  6. The worst advice I always get is “You must follow the rules.” The problem is that there really aren’t any writing rules, except in the grammar department. The rest are things that people tend to do badly or preferences of the individual. But they often are treated as absolutes with dire consequences. There’s a writer marketing his workshops and writing outline like crazy. He does it by telling people they will never get published if they don’t outline.

    All of the worst advice I’ve gotten has been because I don’t follow the rules as laid out in writing books, articles, and on websites. I just read what’s in published work and use that as my example. I’ve been snippily recommended a writing book as a critique; been told that because I wasn’t doing X in my story that it must be the reason why I was having a particular problem (no, it wasn’t); been told “Well, if you really don’t want to solve the problem” because I wasn’t doing it the way the author thought I should do it. Too many people seemed locked in that things must only be done one way, and if that way isn’t being followed, then the person is wrong.

  7. @Ruth: We all have our genre preferences, but respecting others’ right to enjoy reading and writing even those we don’t like personally is important – especially for a teacher!

    @Galadriel: I tend to think our writing will always get better as we grow older, but that’s no reason we can’t write well early.

    @Linda: The “rules” have become accepted conventions because they generally work well. But we stunt our creativity if we become too rule-bound.

  8. The age limit thing drives me nuts! I’ve been writing stories since elementary school. The first one I remember writing was in first grade. (Somewhere, I have a bound copy of my hand-written, hand-illustrated book from back then. I actually placed in a local young writers’ competition with it. I just don’t remember what place, but I think it was 2nd or 3rd.)

    “Follow all the rules.” Um, no. None of these so-called rules are hard-and-fast anyway… ^_^

    <3,
    TL

  9. Forgot one! ‘Write what you know’ No one would read that, because it would be very, very boring. ^_^

  10. Inspired post, Katie. I chortled at all of them.
    Worst advice I ever had was from the editor of my first ghosted novel, Mirror Image. The editor said she had enjoyed the way I wrote the story but then went through the manuscript and told me I’d broken a lot of literary rules. The suggestions she made for changes were obvious, and were all ideas I had rejected because they would be predictable. Clearly she had read a rule book and was then worried I was breaking the rules.

    And this was a major UK publishing house.

  11. @Tura: It’s my own hope that every story I write is a little better than the last. If that works out, then the more stories I write, the better I get. That means that starting early in life is the best thing we can do!

    @dirtywhitecandy: My own rule of thumb (another rule!) is that if the rule is being kept just for the rule’s sake, it’s probably not worth it.

  12. I stand by my quote! Worst advice I received, ever!

    BTW, you’re my guest blogger tomorrow!

  13. Can’t wait!

  14. The “follow the rules” vs. “don’t follow the rules” department is the most confusing to a novice writer. It takes practice, honest critiques from others (besides friends and family, in most cases), and more practice to know what this means. More often than not, friends and family mean well, but a flat “it’s good” is not enough to improve you as a writer.

    As one who has been writing since third grade, I know the “age limit” one is false. However, getting published at a very young age is another matter. Developing one’s talent takes years, and it varies with each individual how soon they’d be able to publish their work.

    One bad advice I’ve received sounds more like a complaint: “Why don’t you get a REAL job?” By which they mean one that pays a regular salary. For most, royalties from writing may be sporadic, but it’s as “real” a job as any other. Most writers do have another, steady income.

    ~ VT

  15. I can so relate to the ‘real job’ advice. I wasted too many years with trying to do real jobs only to find that I didn’t like doing it! It did give me experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

    Not only is there the idea that a person is too young but also there’s the idea that a person is too old. Huh! Now there’s a bunch of BS.

  16. @Victor: I find it interesting how writing is often belittled by people who wouldn’t belittle another art, such as painting or playing the guitar.

    @Cygnet: The best advantage a young writer has on an old writer is time. But older writers have the decided benefit of a lifetime’s experience behind them.

    • I’m 67 and retired so not worried about “Getting a Job” Been there … done that, and just started really writing fiction as a therapeutic exercise, thousands of words!
      I’ve spent years writing technical manuals, guides, workbooks etc. Now I‘ve started fiction and Katie’s Outlining and Structuring books are on order, and, hoping my years can provide some depth of experience of life to actually write something good to share that someone else enjoys reading

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Which, honestly, is an awesome place to be in as a writer. You’re writing for all the right reasons.

  17. As a 21 year old living in the middle of nowhere West Virginia, the first one has been a major source of discouragment for me personally.

    The first time I heard anything like it was from Dean Koontz, who began writing at a younger age and was even published. Even so, he said he wished he’d waited until he was in his late twenties or so, when he knew more about life.

    But when will we know enough about life? Isn’t life ultimately unknowable. Don’t we experience new things (if we’re lucky) till death?

    Anyway, yeah, I struggle with that one almost constantly. “Do I have enough life experience to write anything worth while?”

  18. I say start writing young and keep writing. We grow through our writing as much as we do our lives, sometimes. What we have to share at 20 may not be the same as what we have to share at 70, but both offerings are valuable in their own right.

  19. “Your characters sound like they are 15 you should make them sound older” and when this person realizes my characters are 15 “Oh, I hate that young adult crap anyway.” LOL

  20. People who aren’t willing to be objective about genres shouldn’t be critting those they don’t like. At least you’re laughing!

  21. “Your short story has too many characters in it.” This story had a grand total of only *4* main characters!

    “Use what’s inside you to write.” This is the most nebulous advice I’ve ever heard. Ermmm, like vomit or vital organs?

  22. Ha! Yes, please keep those vital organs to yourself. 😉

  23. I’d say a lot of these aren’t bad advice per se but rather are incomplete or badly stated advice that has a nugget of something larger embedded in it, something that should have been expounded upon to make it good advice. Most “bad advice” is like that.

    That said, anything that is absolute is bad advice, in my book. NEVER do something… ALWAYS do something… Writing “rules” are meant to avoid using something as a crutch. Like anything in life, too much of even a good/useful thing is bad. Saying NEVER or ALWAYS should be banned in writing advice, IMO.

    Likewise, anything that infers there is only one correct way to write (to get the words on paper, to market yourself, your voice, your speed, planning vs. pantsing, character driven vs. plot driven…) is automatically bad advice. Each one of us gets the words on the paper how we do and has a writing style and voice. As long as it doesn’t lose the reader or drive the author nuts in the process, leave it largely alone.

    Let me expound on that. It’s not an absolute. I mean someone may WANT to be a pantser, but if the words aren’t flowing and/or the author is frustrated pantsing, try adding more structure and see what happens.

    Brenna

  24. Again, mine isn’t bad advice exactly but…

    For my senior year in high school I went part time to a technical school. I.e. the sort of school that’s meant to prepare you for your future career. I was studying fashion merchandising and managing as sort of a backup, to have something else to do while working on the writing thing.

    Anyway, for reasons I won’t disclose (less this become a novel) I ended up in a confrontation with the school’s principal and at one point we got onto the fact that I wanted to make a living someday as a writer. He proceeded to literally laugh in my face.

    The man who was supposed to be encouraging me in my desire for a career. nice, huh?

  25. @Brenna: Totally agree. No Sith among writers! We’re all unique and our writing experiences are just as unique. Although there are general guidelines that work for most, what works for one of us won’t work for everyone. An open mind is one of the best gifts any writer can possess.

    @B: Every writer everywhere runs into discouragement somewhere along the line. It’s a sad fact, but true. Learning to cope with and overcome that discouragement is what marks us for success.

  26. My ex-husband tells me all the time that my writing is a “stupid little hobby” and that it isn’t important.

    Once I get published, I’d like to thank him by slapping him across the face with one of my hardcover books. Hahaha okay, I wouldn’t do that but he will see my book prominently displayed EVERYWHERE when he comes to pick up our daughter.

  27. It’s always difficult when the people in our lives don’t “get” writing. It’s a painful thing to have dismissed or ridiculed.

  28. B,

    Sounds like two…not one but two of my college level poetry teachers…one when I was 15 and one when I was 19. BOTH were fans of freestyle poetry and told me no one would ever want to read my “antiquated” styles. Both of the poems that originally got those comments written on them were included in my EPPIE finalist poetry book. Snicker. Yeah, right.

    Brenna

    • One of my college-level teachers said much the same. She wouldn’t let us submit “anything that rhymes or anything that has meter.” I suspect academics greatly prefer dumbed-down post-modern poetry because there’s a limit to how bad it can get, whereas conventional poetry has more dimensions of awfulness and they’re too lazy to teach how to write good poetry.

  29. Thankfully, there’s room for all kinds of styles and expressions. We all have something worth saying.

  30. The worst I received was at my first writers conference when I was told I had to be published in articles before I could get my novels published. I was so discouraged – I didn’t have articles in me, I had STORIES!! The next writers conference, Lauraine Snelling spoke about how she’d received similar advice and complained to Lee Roddy, “But I want to write horse stories for girls.” Lee told her to write her horse stories. So I took Lee’s and Lauraine’s advice 🙂

  31. The whole idea that to be published you have to be published is frustrating (and, largely, unfair). But the good news is that many successful authors have gotten around this so-called stricture.

  32. I love all of these! I think my favorite quote is from Judy Borger! Thanks for sharing these! What fun!!!

  33. Yep, that was one of my favorites too. Took the words right out of my mouth!

  34. “Boldly break all the rules” strikes me as something that should be on the Best Advice list.

  35. The post on best writing advice did include a paragraph on breaking the rules. I included both the “break the rules” and “follow the rules” comments in this post to emphasize that what can be the best advice in one situation can be just the opposite in another.

  36. love the title of this. good article

  37. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  38. Gabrielle says

    I know lots of people have mentioned the “don’t write until you’re 40” one, but as a 20 year old it just bugs me to no end. How can one expect to write well at 40 if they don’t practice at 20? Sure, my writing isn’t a masterpiece of psychology and emotion, but each day I grow up. E each day I observe more about people; I learn more of human nature. No doubt this will be invaluable when I am 40, but if I don’t practice now it won’t be there to draw on when I’m older.

    As a Jane Austen addict, another piece of advice I dislike is “never use words people have to look up in the dictionary”. Of course, using big words can be taken too far, but I love coming across new words and looking them up. I suppose it depends on the writer’s skill in bringing words together, but it can be very boring reading something with no words over two syllables.

  39. Gabrielle is correct.

    The more you write, the more of the inherent process becomes automatic and not a chore. That means practice makes perfect. So write at 20. Write before 20. I started entering writing contests when I was 11. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was in my 30s, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

    And, I’m with you about long words. If the market you’re writing to appreciates precise speech, use it.

    Brenna

  40. @Gabrielle: Good thoughts. We would all like to hope that something written at age 40 is better than what we would have written at age 20. But the absolute truth of the matter is that if we don’t *start* writing at 20, we’ll never be able to reach that stage of improvement by age 40.

    @Brenna: I was about 12 when I started writing. Guess that makes me a later bloomer. 😉

  41. Some of the worst advice I got was from a writing professor who told us to use the “windows and mirrors” rule when writing. Have your character look into a mirror and describe himself so that the reader gets a clear idea of what your character looks like. Fortunately I knew enough by then to see that that was an amateur move, but I worried for the other people in the class. The same teacher also suggested telling potential publishers that your teacher really liked your story. Eep!

  42. Yowch. A professor told you that? Bad advice is everywhere. In fact, if we decided to reject 65% of everything we hear, we’d probably still get bombarded!

  43. Omit needless words.

    I wrote a whole post on the grief that gave me: http://www.rabiagale.com/2012/05/21/writing-down-to-the-bone/. I’m apparently in the underwriting camp and have to fill in huge layers of writing after the first pass. But I was a kid when I inhaled this advice, so I didn’t know any better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The good thing is that nothing is ever lost. No matter the grief it caused you, I’m sure you also learned things from the experience.

  44. “Writer are born, and you are not one of them” A common discouragement, not advice.
    And “Start with short stories. Those are easier. (Short story? Easier? Give me a break)”

  45. I was reading something in ‘Writer’s Digest’ awhile back, and it gave five pieces of advice we could ignore. ‘Write what you know’ was on that list. Good, because I’ve been in this fantasy setting for over two years, working on stories there, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing. Seems to be a recurring theme for me these days. Let’s hope being an expert isn’t a requirement for fantasy writing, or any writing, for that matter.

    • How is fantasy not writing what you know? Is there a child anywhere so soul-dead that he has no fantasies? If you can conceive it, you know it. And a great big raspberry to anyone who gives this ridiculous advice.

  46. Any writing advice taken as gospel is going to cause trouble. Whether it’s about motivation, process, content or whatever. The only advice I hand out is write, and keep writing, and hire good editors to learn from.

    The only rule I insist my clients follow is this: Does it work? If yes, you’re good, if not, we need to work on it.

  47. Gary D. Huddleston says

    “You can’t make any money as a writer, musician or artist. Go get a job!”

    My dad (WWII vet, depression era teen-ager, and blue-collar worker)

  48. My best bad advice: Try to write exactly like Stephen King.

  49. I have thee….

    1. “Write in your spare time”. In other words, don’t bother thinking outside of the JOB mentality.

    2. “Just write it and get it published; it’s up to the publisher to do all the marketing”. Ummm…

    3. The third one comes from a guy who took a writing course from Longridge Writing School or some place like that. So I’m told the rules they have should be followed to succeed. He hasn’t sold a single page of the ONE story he wrote in the 15 years I’ve known him.

  50. Mine is rather specific. A fellow writer in this critique group I was in for a while (the critique group which turned me off of ever being in a critique group again) suggested that I didn’t have enough dialogue in the opening pages of my second novel since the character is by himself in that scene before getting attacked by the monster. Her rule was “If you ever go more than X number of paragraphs without any dialogue every reader will immediately put the book down right then.” Her advice? Create a whole new “apprentice” character for my protagonist for the sole and specific purpose of giving him someone to talk to about the blood on his windshield in the opening scene. Sigh.

  51. I took an online writing course in 2014. It gave the six or seven steps that you had to have in your story, which had to be in order. He got glowing reviews following the course. My response – it was bad advice, it was artificial and I had neither the talent nor interest in following a formula. It might work for hacks, or formulaic genres, but I would never do it.

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