World’s Worst Writing Advice

There are a lot of people out there giving advice on how to write and that’s a great thing… BUUUUT sometimes it’s just so bad that it just makes me want to get a bit stabby with my pen on the page, scrawling something akin to “arghhhghdjsfg whyyyy”… Okay, I’m exaggerating- though it does physically pain me to see advice palmed out to the masses that is just plain WRONG. So today, I thought I’d share with you some of the *worst* writing advice I have ever seen doing the rounds and what you need to watch out for when it comes to guidance online (and elsewhere).

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Anything that begins “in the past people did x, now they don’t…”– okay, this isn’t something you should totally write off, because it’s good to know about differences of style and technique, however it does need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I recommend when you hear this, trying to come up with some examples of modern writers that practice the technique that supposedly no modern writers use. If you can’t think of an example, read more books!– partly because that’s the solution to all life’s problems, but also because I guarantee there are modern writers who have, say, used purple prose. Generally that’s the problem with generalisations– they don’t work all the time 😉 . Plus, the thing that’s important to note is that art is not a linear progression to what is “modern” or “good”. There is often a belief that art peaks/peaked at a certain point, yet in reality styles are always in flux and what’s in fashion is more fluid than you think.

Getting technical terms *wrong*– oh man, this is a killer for me. Honestly, if you notice someone’s using the wrong terminology, it’s probably time to switch off. Harsh, but true. For instance, I once saw someone saying “don’t start with exposition”- which is not terrible advice (even if it’s a total generalisation so not the best) then follow up with “because they did that in the past” (worst reason ever- see above) and then give the example of the first line in Pride and Prejudice. FYI that’s INCORRECT. The first line of Pride and Prejudice- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”- is an ironic aphorism. This is an inversion of exposition, because it’s setting up an idea in the same way you might introduce advice, only to undermine your expectations. In other words, Austen started with a joke- and if you don’t get that… well then, watch some stand-up, I certainly can’t help 😉 . To equate this with the exact opposite: “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory” is completely incorrect and it’s time to find someone who knows what they’re talking about- capiche?

Giving shitty examples of bad writing– usually with “evidence” the individual has made up on the spot or from their own bad writing. It’s called straw-manning and it’s not the best way to prove a point. The main problem with this is that it’s easily undermined- especially since the other side to this issue is that the writer in question doesn’t balance out the argument with examples of the same technique done well. Edit: Heck- it’s just better to show *how* to do something than how not to do something (in art class, no teacher ever holds up a crap drawing and says “don’t do this”). I originally said all examples (good or bad) should be from a real life book- for obvious reasons it wouldn’t be a good idea to subjectively select “bad” writing from books. But if you are trying to show various techniques, books are a good place to start, which leads me onto…

“There are writers and then there are readers”– I’m not even joking, there are people who give this advice. The truth is if you’re a writer, you ought to be a reader. I have heard people say you need to put the books down at some point if you ever want to pick up a pen, because otherwise it’s too daunting and that’s good advice. However, if you don’t read at all, or read very little, how will you ever learn about what it’s like for a technique to totally work, or what’s been done before (/to death) or what people actually enjoy reading? For all the advice on the internet, there is no better writing education than cracking open an excellent book. (Hey- you know my feelings about books- what did you expect me to say about this one? No one insults books and gets away with it- least of all wannabe writers!)

And that just about wraps up my worst writing advice. Agree? Disagree? Do you have any bad writing advice to add to the pot? Let me know in the comments!

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53 thoughts on “World’s Worst Writing Advice

  1. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    To be honest I haven’t really read much bad writing advice. I mean, I always hate it when the people giving advice give examples of bad writing but never of good writing, because sometimes it’s helpful to see it done right. Also normally when they’ve written their own example of bad writing it’s over exaggerated and not real you know?
    Anyways great post, I’ve never seen anyone else discuss the bad sides of writing advice and I loved reading your thoughts on the topic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Fair enough- that’s a very good thing 😀
      I totally agree with you there- I personally think examples of things working are more productive. And yes, I completely agree- it’s usually the sort of thing no one ever actually sees in books.
      Thank you so much!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cagedunn says:

    I think a lot of new writers (and I probably include myself in this when I was a new writer) like to share what they learn. After all, if someone had told me ‘this very important bit of advice’ I might have got there sooner, or I’d have done the first one better, or … Well, you get the drift. And there is a lot of bad advice out there, and a lot of ho-hum advice, and some really good advice, but nothing works as well as the practical effort undertaken to produce a story you love to read.
    Writers never stop learning, and they never stop writing, and after the first 10,000 hours of practical effort, they may be able to say they’ve got some craft skills, but up until that moment (and sometimes after – see Randy Ingermanson) they want to share what they learned, or write it down somewhere so people can either tell them – it’s good – or – sorry, doesn’t work.
    It took me a long time to even realise what ‘purple prose’ was, but when I did finally ‘see’ it, the big smack to the forehead was followed by the ‘of course it is’ but before that understanding came, it [the concept of what deemed it to be purple] was couched in vague and flowery terms, indistinguishable from the purple itself.
    the best writing advice, in my opinion, is to find a way to understand what people mean when they talk about structure (and it comes in many guises), then keep learning while you keep writing. Take every bit of advice with a pinch of salt (including your own [the writer’s, not the librarian person who posted the above]) and just keep writing, and writing, and writing – and if you ever stop enjoying what you read of the words you’ve written, stop (and then see how long that lasts!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes that’s fair and that’s the reason I said that advice is a great thing- and yeah for sure there’s a huge range of advice out there. I just think it’s worth knowing which advice to listen to, because I’m sure it can get pretty overwhelming for newbies. And that’s really true- ultimately you just have to try it out for yourself.
      And yes, it’s really important for people to get feedback as a new writer- but also to make sure they keep growing beyond that.
      And yes, I think the term is a little broad- the problem is, it’s generally used in a negative context- when in reality it’s neutral- it’s just a style choice. There have been many successful and brilliant writers who employ it and many who do not. The issue is that it’s a tricky technique to master, so when people don’t get it right it’s noticeable. But I digress.
      And of course it’s worth not being too literal with even your own advice 😉
      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    You are spot on with these! There is some great writing advice out there, but also some not so great stuff, and these things you mentioned can be prime red flags. Inventing bad writing examples really is dangerous territory to tread – once I was reading a book of writing advice and I honestly thought the “bad” examples sounded better than the “improved/good” examples (though they all sounded pretty terrible)… so much so that at first I assumed the author had just mixed them up. When I realised they hadn’t… well, I gave up on the book pretty fast. And that ”readers aren’t writers” thing annoys me too. I’ve seen an extreme case where an aspiring author said they NEVER read books because they didn’t want them interfering with their style… I don’t think it was doing their style any favours (ironically I think it did mean their work felt a bit clichéd because they were doing things that had been done to death but hadn’t realised it).

    Btw that is hilarious that someone used the first line of Pride & Prejudice as an example of how not to start a story… I thought it was a truth universally acknowledged that that is one of the best first lines of all time! 😉 (and yes, definitely not exposition!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you! So glad you agree!! And yes, there’s lots of great advice for sure- but I think it’s worth knowing when it’s not so good. Yes I completely agree- I’ve read so many examples of “bad” writing that was actually good. Maybe it would just be worth showing ways to do it rather than how not to do it? I mean, when I’ve studied art, nobody holds up a really shit drawing and says “don’t do this”. I totally agree with you!! I’ve actually seen that with aspiring writers too (for one I’d actually read, and not liked their book- and finding out they didn’t read made so much sense, because their work was just so clichéd and done to death).

      Hahahaha I know right!! It’s legitimately one of my favourite openings of all time- I actually saw this really popular video on YT saying it was bad and exposition and rage quit there and then- I’ve no time for people that don’t know what they’re talking about! No one disses Austen and gets away with it! (well, no one can say the writing’s bad, at the very least 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

        Haha true, my mother is an art teacher and I don’t think she’s ever held up a shit drawing and said “don’t do this” 😂 Definitely more helpful to give the good examples! And that is so interesting you also had an experience like that! I guess for a writer, seeing what’s already out there is an important part of coming up with something different… which sounds obvious, but I can see why people might think the opposite (“if I don’t know it I can’t copy it!”… well, that doesn’t seem to hold true…)

        Haha that was a good decision to rage quit, I would have! Got no time for Austen-haters!! 😉 (That line is one of my absolute favourites too).

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          hahahhaa I know right!! 😂 That’s so cool your mum is an art teacher as well!! 😀 Exactly!! Yes, I so agree with you. It does sound obvious- which is why I’m amazed people think the opposite is true. I mean, even if you’re gonna look at it from a purely business sense (which gah- I don’t personally like to do, but I know that the person I’m referring to would have) it seems to me a bit foolish to go in blind when you should really know your market. And the thing is, usually the simplest ideas come to people first in the creative process, so stands to reason if you’re starting from scratch (well not totally, cos that’s impossible, but you know what I mean) all the ideas a person comes up with first will be obvious.
          hehehe I know right!! 😉 Yes!! 😀

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          • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

            Haha yes, it certainly meant I got to play with lots of cool art supplies growing up 🙂 (is your mum an art teacher too?? Or did I misread that?). Yeah true even from a business perspective it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’ve got to know your market before you try and sell to it (I also hate the commercial sound of that… but hey, if selling lots of books is the writer’s goal then it’s relevant!). And that’s a really good point – the first idea or version of an idea that you get is rarely the best or the most creative, and I suppose being a reader yourself helps you to weed those too-obvious or too-simple ones (or it should at least!!).

            Liked by 1 person

            • theorangutanlibrarian says:

              So cool!! hehe no, she’s not, but funnily enough she’s a drama teacher- lots of dressing up 😉
              Yes exactly!! haha true!! Exactly!! I feel like I’ve had loads of abandoned ideas or plot twists, just cos it’s so meh compared to other ones or even because it’s been used before somewhere else- and I feel like reading is a huge part of making that choice.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Lashaan (Bookidote) says:

    Damn girl. Your mind works in magnificent ways. I love how you destroy those bad advices so easily and even explain with perfect reasons! I’m no writer, and haven’t been the victim of bad writing advice either–thank God. But everything you point out sure does make me wonder what on Earth are some of these peepz doing writing novels if they can’t even acknowledge the importance of past literature and the freedom to explore styles (old or new).

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hahah thank you so much!!! 😀 Hehe yes- thank goodness!! AHH SO TRUE!!! I mean, it’s like a musician saying “don’t listen to Mozart”- I mean no one’s saying that all art has to be the same as it was in the part- but can we at least acknowledge its merit?! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Briana says:

    Agreed. I think there are people who just read, but I can’t imagine anyone who just writes and does not also read. It’s very hard to do something you haven’t seen other people do and reflected on. You don’t have to professionally study writing in the sense of getting a degree or taking a workshop, but you should be reading other writing and asking yourself what you think is working/not working with it and why. That is how you improve your own writing.

    I’ve only taught expository writing, and my general theory is that there often are “rules,” and you should know them, but there is probably no rule that applies 100% of the time. Break the rules if you want. The key is knowing what you are trying to achieve with your writing and figuring out whether following the rule or breaking the rule will help you get there.

    And I think the issue with giving examples of bad writing is it’s considered bad form (if not actually *not allowed*) to pull out someone else’s writing and point at it and say, “Isn’t this terrible???” I often had to make up bad examples for my writing classes because, you know, using other students’ work for PowerPoints on “how not to write” probably wouldn’t go over well….

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I completely agree!! Reading is one of the most important skills for any type of writing. And I personally think analytical reading is the best way to absorb different styles and techniques.

      That’s very fair. And I do think there are rules- usually quite basic things that people should know- the issue often comes with generalisations about style- which is different in fiction, because as you know there’s so many different choices to make. But I do think the most important thing is to be in control of what you’re writing- if you’re breaking a rule or choosing a style, it has to be deliberate and not just accidental. I think you put it really well- it’s about knowing what you want to achieve.

      You know, you’re a hundred percent right- that wouldn’t be very productive. The reason I put that in there is that egs of how not to do things always look made up, and I was chatting with someone else and they mentioned having the same problem (and often finding the bad egs secretly good- which I often feel). I think the best way is to just give examples of how each technique should be done and when it works- to be honest, whenever I’ve studied art, no teacher has held up an example of a really crap drawing and gone “don’t do this”. Usually you’re just shown different examples of styles/techniques working. So for instance, with writing there’s always that on-going debate of when it works/doesn’t- I think personally the best solution is to just show an example of where showing works and where telling works. Hehe sorry for going off on one- it’s just a good thing to speculate about and your comment got me thinking.

      Like

  6. daleydowning says:

    Totally correct! If you never read, you won’t write a book that others want to read! And if you only go with flights of fancy that weren’t around last year, your book may stink! If you only use ancient methods, blah, blah, blah, your book may stink! The best method is finding a balance of all of this! You’re so right!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Adrienne Morris says:

    Haha. Love this. I think it’s best to limit the amount of time we spend reading online writing advice. Same with publishing advice or even worming your sheep. Everyone passes around advice and rules most of which just makes people crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nel says:

    Great advice. I was reading a thread on Twitter today about active voice vs passive voice and verbs vs adjectives when it comes to writing. The author who started the thread was talking about these in regard to writing narrative and the bad writing advice the statement was causing. Quite interesting stuff. I’m not a writer but I commend you for sharing your thoughts and agree that you really can’t be a great writer without reading. Reading is the ultimate gateway to learning, always.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Jen Connelly says:

    I always know when it’s been too long since I’ve read a book because it becomes harder and harder to write. Nothing comes to me, and the characters all feel stiff. It usually takes reading one or two chapters before inspiration hits and I’m back in the groove. Of course, it’s a dangerous course of action because I tend to get sucked into reading the whole book and forget to do any writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Krysta says:

    I have seen an argument that you don’t need to read in order to write. It was about someone who published a nonfiction book. But I had to wonder 1) if he just didn’t mean he didn’t read fiction and 2) whether he had to read more once he had a publication deal. I also think the advice doesn’t hold because I’m assuming his editor would have been the proxy reader. They would have read enough to know how nonfiction books are typically written, structured, pitched, and marketed. You can’t have a book written by a team of people who haven’t read. I just don’t see how it would be possible.

    I also get annoyed by the idea that we all have to write a certain way today. It’s worth branching out and trying something new. Why are you writing if you just want to write the way everybody else does? It’s safe, certainly, but perhaps not fulfilling if you’re stifling your own style to sell.

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Ahh yes I’ve seen it too- though not for non-fic- but either way it drives me mad. Also that’s kind of impossible for non-fic- because don’t you kinda have to read other studies/essays/books to produce that sort of work? Seems a bit weird to claim you don’t- either it’s untrue or the writer in question is claiming that their work is not researched and made up… which sort of makes it fiction. Haha so true!!

      Yes- I completely agree!! There are so many different styles to choose from- but most instructors only seem interested in one (usually the pared down style)- and that’s fine to write that way if you want, but the trouble is not everybody has to. And frankly, a lot of people criticise things like purple prose or what amounts to more lyrical writing- but the thing is there will always be readers (like me for example) who actually prefer that style over most others. It’s so daft, because the market isn’t even that straight forward. I mean, a lot of people use Stephen King’s advice as if it’s gospel- but (and I know this will make some people mad) I don’t even like reading that style of writing! Basically, people shouldn’t act like there are rules for style that are set in stone, because you really can’t please everyone 😉 (hehe sorry for the mini rant there 😉 )

      Like

      • Krysta says:

        Yes, everyone praises the pared-down style like it’s the best, but it’s just a matter of taste. Personally, I’m not too fond of Hemingway’s prose and not likely to want to reproduce it. I think what the should say is that you are striving for clarity–and that has nothing to do with how long or short your sentences are. You can actually write a bunch of short sentences that obscure meaning just as you could write a longer sentence that is perfectly understandable.

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Yes precisely! I’m not actually a fan of Hemmingway (I know, *shock horror*) because I don’t like that writing style. I’m much more fond of, say, Fitzgerald (*sighs like a lovestruck teen*) The thing is, choice of style is entirely a personal taste thing- so it seems a bit silly to critique on that basis. Obviously there are ways to do it well, but no one can tell a person that they should/shouldn’t like a certain style- it’s just silly.

          And I think you put it perfectly about clarity- YES! That’s so true! I’ve read completely obtuse books with more pared down style and ones that are more lyrical that are very controlled and logical. It’s more important how well it’s done.

          Like

  11. Naty says:

    This was such an interesting read. I think it’s wonderful to see this kind of post, because one does get a bit lost in the many writing advice out there which don’t apply for everyone… very good work and I’m very impressed with this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. crafty scribbles1976 says:

    Thank you! I’ve said for years that I do not trust writers that don’t read. It’s like trusting a lawyer without courtroom experience or a surgeon without surgical knowledge. It’s impossible. Some people choose to call me smug when I say such things, but you do need to read. Not a little, but a lot, to write.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Marie says:

    This is such a great and useful post – thank you for writing this! I have to admit that I’m the kind of person LOVING writing advice… I probably read more about writing than I write, which is, well, not good but… I’m a slow writer?! haha. ANYWAY, I’ll be on the look-out for these kind of bad advice now 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  14. J.W. Martin says:

    My favourite is “show don’t tell.” Bad advice for two reasons.

    1. A lot of new writers (and bad writers) take this to heart and always show, never telling. There are times where it’s better to tell for the sake of flow and story. There needs to be a mix.

    2. A lot of people that spout this off heard someone else say it and have no idea what it actually means. It’s like people claiming to know the theory of relativity because they can open their word holes and slur, “e=mc squared!”

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    I cringed when you mentioned people showing examples of bad writing. I’m just imagining the author who wrote that “bad writing” and how devastating it must be for them. In my opinion, there’s no proper standard for writing as it depends on the readers…? I mean, what’s bad writing for me could be good for someone else.

    Oh, and not reading when you write? That worries me. I don’t think anyone should stop being a reader when writing. Like, if you do where do you get your creative fuel from? That’s terrible advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehe fair enough- my point was more about how bad examples never seem quite right, either because of being obviously made up, or because they actually seem half decent. I think the issue is just trying to show bad examples in general- I’ve studied art for instance and no one shows shitty examples and says “don’t do this”. It’s just more logical to show *how* to do something rather than how not to do something, because I agree, whether it’s bad or not is subjective.

      And yes, it’s terrible advice to not read!!

      Like

  16. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    LOVE THIS Orangutan!! ❤ I've not read much poor writing advice?! WHERE DO YOU FIND IT?! Okay, okay, I don't really want the answer to that question… Better you than me! You totally KILLED it… I can see why you feel it's terrible advice… Who thinks that techniques from the past are wrong simply because they come from the past?! *shakes head* I too did not know about that line in Pride and Prejudice… but I have not been formally trained… I just read hundreds of writing books and picked out what works for me and kicked to the curb what didn't… *shrug*

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! Hehe I’ve read it and seen it a lot actually- usually just the same things over and over (basically the things on this list 😉) hehe too true. Fair enough!! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not knowing things or picking out what works either (unless like in the example, a person is actively giving out wrong information- then that ticks me off)

      Liked by 1 person

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