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When it comes to advice about writing fiction, just about the only thing you can guarantee is that if you ask 100 writers how to do something, you'll get at least 101 answers.

Most folks like to help other people, and when we try to point writers in (what we see as) the right direction, we mean well. The trouble is, some of our nuggets of wisdom are made of fool's gold. In fact, much of the advice you hear thrown about online and at writing groups is, at worst, complete piffle, and at best, completely wrong for you and your situation.

Here are some examples I've heard around the water-cooler at writing group meetings, conferences etc. or read online:


'Never use the passive tense.'

'Never use adverbs.'

'You should self-publish your book.'

'Don't self-publish your book.'

'Getting an agent or publisher is a crapshoot. Just keep sending out query letters. Sooner or later, you'll get one.'

'Post weekly chapters of your book online.'

'You don't need to bother with an agent these days.'

'Don't waste your time writing short stories. There's no money/future in them.'

'Avoid clichés like the plague.'

Okay, that last one's worth bearing in mind, but the others depend on your individual situation. 

As writers, we're always looking to improve, especially when we first start out, but when it comes to advice, take it all with a pinch of salt, and remember my old gran's wisdomous words: 'Advice and opinions are like spouses and children, they should be embraced or ignored at the individual's discretion.' 

How about you?

What was the worst writing advice you ever got?

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( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 19th, 2011 09:50 am (UTC)
Oh that one is easy. This individual critiqued a few chapters of mine on an online workshop, tore them to shreds and told me to eliminate all the adverbs and instead, insert present participals and or gerunds. The big problem with this advice was this person thought anything ending in 'ly' was a present participal/gerund and anything ending in 'ing' was an adverb. This person also believed in head-hopping between characters without a section break.

I wasn't the only person to receive such advice from this individual and no one could sway the person from their conviction of rightness. I believe this person eventually ended up selling their story to a comic book publisher.
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:02 am (UTC)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 11:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 10:19 am (UTC)
"Keep writing!" ;)
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:24 am (UTC)
Hehehe :)
(no subject) - dqg_neal - Oct. 19th, 2011 12:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 10:26 am (UTC)
It's not advice I received, but advice I recently heard on a video about writng. The person told the audience, presumably YA writers that ALL YA books are written in first person and ALL MG books are written in 3rd person. He said that if you write a YA book in 3rd person, no one would want it...editors wouldn't know what to do with it. REALLY? REALLY?
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:27 am (UTC)
I don't think it's intentional, but some people confuse what they believe to be correct at that particular time in their writing career with being the real deal.

Edited at 2011-10-19 07:01 pm (UTC)
Oct. 19th, 2011 10:45 am (UTC)
I've always wondered about
'Avoid clichés like the plague.'

Does that mean we should flock to clichés
like the zombie apocalypse?
You know, stick with the really popular now-trending clichés,
rather than the time-honoured shopworn clichés?

While I've probably received some bad advice,
I can't recal what it was,
nor do I recall following any advice to the point of disaster.

The two pieces of advice I feel doubtful of are
"Find a writing group" and "Ignore the rules"

So far as I can tell,
writing groups are AA meetings in which no one attempts to maintain sobriety.
And you have to know the rules really well
before you can discern which rule applies in which circumstance.
Like money, rules are sweet servants and bitter masters;
but you must be familiar with both to use them well.
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:28 am (UTC)
'Find a writing group'

You know, that's got a catchy sound to it. Someone ought to use that as a name for a website or something ;)
(no subject) - darkspires - Oct. 19th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - darkspires - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - paulwoodlin - Oct. 20th, 2011 03:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:02 am (UTC)
"Real writers write every day."
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:11 am (UTC)
"Write what you know"
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 11:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 11:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - silverwerecat - Oct. 19th, 2011 11:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:46 am (UTC)
Always glad to amuse. ;)

(And further proof that Muse and Mews do not sound alike just by chance). :p
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:50 am (UTC)
Other person: "Make those scenes into love scenes."

Me: "But that isn't what the book is about."

Other person: "Doesn't matter."

She was convinced every look any characters had at another character, should become sexual. LOL
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way avout explosions and car chases :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ann1962 - Oct. 19th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
worst advice I ever got
"Don't waste your time selling stories to professional online magazines even if they pay the same as print and have a bigger reader base. Print is more important and has more gravitas with professionals than e-zine publications."

Oh, and the professional writers who told me that? They now sell stories to online magazines. Go figure.

Oct. 19th, 2011 01:25 pm (UTC)
Re: worst advice I ever got
"Get a dependable eletric typewriter"
was once good advice.
Obviously, things have changed.
Re: worst advice I ever got - jongibbs - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: worst advice I ever got - paulwoodlin - Oct. 20th, 2011 03:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:06 pm (UTC)
"I don't understand; you've got a good ear for dialogue, why do you waste your time writing fantasy and science fiction when you could be writing proper novels?"

I kid you not.

Oct. 19th, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC)
Lol, oh dear :)
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
But aphorisms are fun! You can build NOVELS around them, explaining how they relate to the time/space continuity of aardvarks embarking upon their supper-time journeys!
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
But aphorisms are fun!
As soon as I look that word up, I'll let you know if I agree :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 20th, 2011 12:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
Worst bit of advice I ever got - "Why do you need to revise? Revising is bad! You lose your emotional connection with your work if you edit."
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
I've had that advice about adverbs, passive tense and cliches. I still use all of them, but... now I can catch myself if I use too many. I've gotten a lot of advice. Some of it I'm only now starting to question. One I always held by was, "Small writers borrow, great writers steal." But there's "stealing" and then there's "appropriating." Thoughtless excess. Excessive thoughtlessness. I dunno. Tough question!
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
Some of my favorite moments in books and films are when there's a clear nod at someone else's work, like the tribute to the crop-spraying scene from North by North-West in the Sesame Street movie, Follow that Bird :)
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
I think any unbendable rule, especially about something really specific, like not using adverbs or the passive voice, is probably bad advice. Those rules were made because people relied on things like adverbs **too much**, but it doesn't mean that there are **no** times when you can use them. Or like the passive voice--sure, government documents and business jargon gets ridiculous in its passive constructions (usually to avoid responsibility: "decisions were made..."), but sometimes that's exactly what you want.

... I think most of the advice I've gotten has been pretty good, though, actually.
Oct. 19th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
Yeah, anytime writing advice starts with 'You should never, ever...' or 'You should 'always...' my internal warning lights go up.
Oct. 19th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
Write about what you know. Hell, I write to get away from what I know. If I write about what I know the book will be like the one that's inside everyone, the one that should stay right where it is.

The best? Know what you write, or as Bob McKee put it 'Know your world as well as God knows this one.'

The next best? Write from the heart. Write what hurts.
Oct. 19th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
'Hell, I write to get away from what I know.'

Lol, I know what you mean. I've got tons of short stories based on the Toon winning the FA cup in my lifetime :(
(no subject) - martyn44 - Oct. 20th, 2011 09:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
"If you write fantasy stories, you'll burn in hell."

That stopped me from writing for years. I know these family members still disagree with my choice in subject matter but we respectfully agree to disagree.
Oct. 20th, 2011 11:14 am (UTC)
Wow! Tough crowd :)
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Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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