There’s no fool-proof formula to being a successful writer (no matter what anyone says) – and of course, “success” differs for everyone anyway. I often post advice and tips about writing on this blog, but these are never must-dos – they’re suggestions to try out. That’s what advice is meant to be. That being said, I’ve also encountered some writing advice that could be considered, well, a bit off target. Here are six bits of bad writing advice.
1) Write what you know
If you choose to write about an area you’re an expert in then obviously you will be “writing what you know” – up to a point anyway. Because no one is an expert in everything. Moreover, you don’t need to have experienced everything you write about either. You’re a writer, you get to be creative just like any other artist. You should be able to write about anything from flying a plane to building a spaceship to working in a funeral home. But, and this is important, it’s still key to do your research – especially when including real-life events and characters from backgrounds that differ from your own.
2) Write how you talk
Have you ever listened to people talk? It’s… not pretty. People um and ah, they repeat themselves, they struggle to find words, they ramble on and on and on. To be honest, I don’t advise writing how people talk even for dialogue. Just think about some of the boring, frustrating, and annoying conversations you’ve had to endure. Would you want to read that? Didn’t think so. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule (none of these are remember). I was taught not to include abbreviations outside of dialogue, but I do it all the time. For some books, you may want to cleave closer to someone chatting to the reader, or them overhearing the story. Just don’t overdo it.
3) Write because you love it/want to change the world/want to make money/it seemed like a good idea at the time…
There’s no valid or invalid reason to write. I tend to think of writing as more of a compulsion. Stories happen in my head, and the way I express them is to write them down. You write because you write. It’s just what you do. You can have many reasons you write. Or you can have none. So don’t worry about your reasons, and don’t judge anyone else’s either. Just write.
4) You must plot out your story
I’m a plotter through and through. I like to plan, plan and plan some more. But not everyone is like that. Some prefer to wing it so to speak. And that’s fine – Douglas Adams was a famous “panster”. How you write is up to you. You could even be a mix of plotter and panster depending on what you’re writing. A plot can give you structure and something to refer to when writing (especially if you’ve got a number of disparate storylines or threads). But it’s not a panacea for all ills – I know this from experience. Your plot is very unlikely to remain as is once you start the nitty-gritty of writing. Issues you hadn’t foreseen will come to the fore, ideas you were sure would work don’t and of course, your characters will dance off any which way they choose and derail even the best-laid plans. So whether you plot or not is up to you.
5) Only write when inspired
Honestly, if you wait to be inspired you’ll never write. Inspiration is hard to come by at the best of times – and by that, I mean in a nurturing, creative environment without any external pressures. And usually, we’re not in the best of times. We’re working, we’re dealing with family, juggling friends and commitments, and a thousand and one other things. None of which helps to spark your inspiration. Sometimes (oftentimes) it takes the act of writing to spark your creative mind. If you can’t face your WiP, then try something else – find a writing prompt and see what happens.
6) Don’t use complicated words
My day job involves writing about somewhat complicated things for readers with a range of reading levels. We don’t want to make it hard, so we choose simple words and language. And that works – in that context. But the context of a book, especially a fiction book, is different. Some genres like literary or romance, lean more heavily into the lyrical, whereas crime or realism might not. But I think all books can benefit from getting a bit fancy with words sometimes. Maybe you (and your reader) love words. Maybe one of your characters just talks in a florid way. Or perhaps a more complex word just conveys what you’re trying to get across in the best way. If your reader occasionally reaches for a dictionary or Googles a word (I’ve done it) so be it. One of the reasons we read is to learn and widen our vocabulary. Like most things, it just needs moderation.
Those are some pieces of “bad” writing advice. Are there any others that particularly irk you? Please share in the comments.
You nailed this list, especially number 6! I read a lot of crime fiction and medical thrillers, and as a reader, I appreciate complicated words and processes. For me, it heightens the suspense.
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Yes! I like to learn about new things even when I’m reading fiction.
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