There is some really good, helpful advice out there for writers who are just getting started. After all, it can be daunting, staring at a blank page, trying to come up with ideas, figuring out how the heck to start something as massive as a novel. Taking advice from seasoned writers can be a way to make sense of it all.
But then there’s advice that’s...less than helpful. Okay, fine, it’s outright awful. You may have heard some of these ideas that have floated into the mainstream - even non-writers may be familiar with them. But that doesn’t mean they’re helpful, or that you should automatically follow this advice.
The 6 pieces of bad writing advice that you should ignore:
Write what you know.
Huh? Really? I should only limit my writing topics to ones I have direct experience with?
No, no no. If this piece of advice means turning to your own experience in your life for inspiration, then by all means, go for it! Pulling from real-world situations can be helpful when thinking of ideas. But you shouldn’t be limited in this way.
Part of the fun in writing is taking on new characters, new settings, new background information that’s completely different than your own.
2. You must write every day.
I can see why this idea exists, but the truth is, life is busy. We’re dealing with crazy schedules, full-time jobs, etc., and trying to find time to write can be challenging.
I do think it’s important to be diligent about setting up a writing habit and making sure you’re setting aside time to write (even when you don’t feel like it!), but it’s okay if you miss a day. You are still a writer.
3. Don’t ever use adverbs.
STOP. A well-placed adverb is fine. Your writing shouldn’t be overrun with them, but including an adverb now and then doesn’t make you a bad writer.
Stephen King is a vocal opponent of adverbs. See this passage from his memoir/writing instruction manual On Writing:
‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.
Now look at these dubious revisions:
‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.
Doesn’t the second example seem a bit weaker? It’s often considered “lazy” to dump adverbs throughout your writing, and in the second example, there are too many adverbs in that short passage.
HOWEVER, let’s look at a well-known example of an author using adverbs. From Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time:
“It was a frightfully hot day. We’d jammed an absolutely perfect barricade across the bridge. It was simply priceless.”
These adverbs are clarifying. And they’re contributing to Hemingway’s voice.
So to have a hard and fast rule about adverbs is bad advice. When sprinkled throughout the text, they can provide clarity and help define a writer’s voice. Just don’t go crazy!
4. Don’t worry about editing - that’s what an editor is for.
Um, no. Think about it this way: when you submit a short story or an essay for publication, you only get one shot to impress the editors. Submitting a piece that’s full of errors isn’t just lazy, it’s damaging. Literary journals or websites are far too busy to spend time copy-editing your piece. And to assume that someone will do so is hurting your chances of being published.
The same thing goes for a completed manuscript. When sending a portion of your book to potential agents, it will reflect poorly on you as a writer to have copy that’s rife with errors. Again, you only get one shot to impress potential agents who can help you get your book published. Why wouldn’t you want to wow them with a completely finished, polished manuscript?
5. To be taken seriously as a writer, you need an MFA.
There are hundreds of examples of authors who don’t have MFAs and have long, successful writing careers. People have lots of opinions about MFA degrees, and I won’t add in my two cents here since I don’t have one. Just know that plenty of well-known, respected writers don’t have a degree, so it’s not an absolute necessity.
6. Write what’s trendy, and you can’t go wrong.
I’ve heard a handful of variations on this particular piece of bad writing advice you should disregard. While it can’t hurt to look up from your writing and be aware of what’s going on in the publishing industry, writing “trendy” stuff is not the way to go. There are a variety of reasons for this.
First, publishing trends vary, and things can shift very quickly. Consider the vampire trend. A decade ago, it seemed like every other book on the shelves dealt with vampires to some degree. And then, the market became over-saturated, and the tide shifted. Now, people are wary of anything dealing with vampires. I’ve seen agents specifically put on their manuscript submission guidelines: NO VAMPIRES.
Second, if you decide to go the traditional publishing route, it can take a long time to get a book published. A year, eighteen months, two years, maybe longer. If you try and capitalize on a trendy topic, by the time your book actually hits the shelf, the craze may have ended. Trying to time the market isn’t the best idea.
Third, if you write only from the position of trying to capitalize on trends, then it probably won’t be very fulfilling. It’s better to write what you love, or write in a genre that you can’t get enough of. Write the book you want to read.
There are countless other pieces of bad writing advice you should ignore. This list could be a lot longer! Do you have any pieces of bad advice to add? Let me know in the comments! Or, if you’ve encountered a really helpful piece of good advice, let me know that, too!