Bad Writing Advice

One of the more frustrating aspects of being a writer is receiving outdated or irrelevant feedback. Here at the end of the year, it’s important to reflect on the good things – but also the things that didn’t work so well. I’d like to share some advice I saw on various Discord servers that didn’t match my own understanding of the realities of what it means to be a writer.  

Craft

Advice: Delete adverbs to create a streamlined flow.

Reality: This is an extremely useful piece of advice given to screenwriters, but the conventions that apply to spoken dialog don’t necessarily translate to prose fiction. Prose writers can’t rely on cinematography to direct the reader’s attention, so we have to use words to create a sense of focus through pace, which will sometimes be slower and heavier.

Advice: Open your story with an action-packed intro hook.

Reality: Many readers find this sort of decontextualized opening explosion confusing and exhausting, and it’s not appropriate for every genre. This style of storytelling became common during the YA fiction boom of the 2000s and is still frequently used in screenwriting, but it’s not as ubiquitous as it once was.

Practice

Advice: Write 2,000 words every day, no exceptions.

Reality: Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes you’ll find yourself writing many more than two thousand words in a day. Still, it’s important to write at your own pace and allow yourself to rest. When it comes to professional writing, it’s also important to respect wordcount limits instead of charging ahead with the “more words are better” mentality that many writers pick up in high school or college.

Advice: Only write what you’re passionate about.

Reality: Passion will only carry you so far. Famously prolific writers from William Faulkner to Chuck Tingle have argued that discipline, persistence, and a good-natured willingness to occasionally make concessions to market trends are much more important in the long run.  

Career

Advice: Apply to an MFA program.

Reality: MFA programs are expensive, and you also have to take the cost of living and the opportunity cost into account. Meanwhile, week-long writing workshops and retreats often have financial aid available and may be more accessible to people who aren’t interested in pursuing an academic career.

Advice: Be active on social media.

Reality: Many agents and editors have made it clear that they don’t take a writer’s social media presence into account, and the days of being signed because of a viral tweet ended several years ago. While it can be useful to pay attention to calls for submissions on social media, especially Twitter, it’s not necessary to have a lot of followers (or even a public account) in order to find a venue for your work.

It’s important to note that a lot of this advice isn’t “bad” so much as it is “not generally applicable.” For example, the “write 2k words a day, no exceptions” maxim makes perfect sense for a professionally established novelist under contract to produce three manuscripts every two years. If you’re given the opportunity to be that sort of novelist, “2k words per day” is what you need to do. Nothing controversial about that. Still, the extent to which this advice has transformed from a specific professional practice to A Gospel Truth About Writing can be frustrating.

If you’ve been subjected to any similarly “bad” writing advice, please feel free to leave a comment. The end of the year is a good time to vent and get it all out so that you can start the new year fresh and energized.

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A version of this post originally appeared on Get Your Words Out, a community of writers aiming to maintain healthy creative habits and writing productivity. Membership is open for 2023 through January 16, 2023. The community’s content is limited to members who maintain their writing pledges, but the GYWO Twitter account is accessible to everyone and posts encouragement, prompts, and writing resources at a steady but manageable pace.

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