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).
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!