More Writing Advice I Don’t (entirely) Agree With

am writing

Tis the season where writers crack open their notepads and crank out words on their keyboards- because Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us! Well, not for me in any capacity this year, but that’s a story for another time… Either way, in solidarity, I’ve been doing some thinking about writing that I thought I’d share. There’s a helluva lot of writing advice out there- much of which I agree with- and some which I’ve vocally disagreed with in the past (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Today, I’m not just going for the advice that I vehemently oppose (like the time when I responded to the *shudder-inducing* advice that “there are writers and then there are readers”). Still, I do think there’s some advice which could be a bit more nuanced. Without further ado, here’s the writing advice I don’t entirely agree with and why:

moneyBooks are not art- they’re purely commercial. This is the piece of advice I’ve seen more of lately and it cuts right through my soul. Don’t get me wrong, there is a commercial aspect to every art form. And my saying books are art doesn’t mean writing can’t be improved or criticised or anything like that. But wow. I dare say if you actually believe this, you’re in the writing game for the wrong reasons. Feel free to spare the world whatever cash grab fic you’ve been writing on your phone and are hoping to foist on us unsuspecting readers- PLEASE! On that topic…

money2If you want to be a writer, write erotica because it sells– this is the only piece of advice on this list I’ve ever personally received (more than once!) and I had to include it because it’s the worst advice in the world. And also, it’s hilarious. No shade at erotica writers, you do you, but do it cos you actually want to, not cos you think you’re gonna make bank.

thinking monkeyWrite what you know– which, hello, fantasy writers can’t exactly do- unless you happen to know a dragon personally, in which case I’m very jealous, can you introduce me? 😉 The other problem is that stories shouldn’t just be purely autobiographical, as I mentioned the other day. And, as Rebecca Alasdair mentioned in her amazing post on writing advice she doesn’t follow, it really limits creativity. We can’t just be stuck in our own heads when writing, we have to explore the world a little. Sometimes that means going places in your imagination that you’ve never been before. And yes, that can mean writing things you’ve never experienced. Personally, I’ve found more sensitive writers are totally capable of doing this! (for instance, Terry Pratchett did an amazing job of getting in the head of a great ape 😉 ) All of which leads me onto…

popeyeYou need to toughen up to be a writer– generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea to toughen up and grow a spine. But… the problem I have with this advice is that you kinda need to be sensitive to be an artist. So, my version of this tough love advice would be to say: don’t be so tough that you can’t write something emotionally compelling. Similarly, I disagree with…

bad writing gigIf you’re insecure, this is not the field for you. Writers and artists are insecure (there’s that sensitivity issue again 😉). Personally, I think this makes writers more open to criticism, because if you think too highly of yourself, you won’t want to improve. More importantly, *everyone* has insecurities and I hate to think of brilliant people never sharing their work just out of fear. That’s a really sad thought, cos we’re all missing out. Bringing me onto…

shoot for the moonIt’s not possible to be the next *insert genius writer here* and no one can write like *insert famous writer here*. Okay, I agree in the sense that you should never be so derivative that you sound like another writer. HOWEVER, you never know who could be the next famous/genius writer in their own right. I mean, genius writers are evidence of this 😉 I’ve said this before, but I truly believe there’s real talent out there, striving for greatness. The implication here is you shouldn’t even bother to try. My thought is that it’s awful to put people like that off (even if we do have to deal with a bunch of pretentious wannabes searching for them 😉)

peter pan robin williams flyingWriting is hard– well I’m actually being cheeky with this one because I actually agree in the sense that it is definitely work. BUT every time I hear it I half-nod, half-shake my head, cos I feel like this one should come with a disclaimer (hey, I did say this list would be more nitpicky!). Truth is, there are days when it feels like all the gears are grinding and still nothing’s moving forward, yet there are other days when the words are gliding and new worlds are spinning on the page and I swear there’s no closer feeling to flying. Nothing compares to being in that zone. Granted it’s the soaring joy of Icarus- but I’ll take it, if only for a moment. So yeah, I would just rephrase this to writing is work, yet it’s the best kind of work, because no other work can give you superpowers! 😉

winners podiumWriting is competitive– now, this is something that could be more of a personality thing, so no judgement if you’re motivated by competition. That said, logically speaking, it’s hard to make this into a competitive sport. As much as traditionally published authors are subject to the whims of the market, for example, the fact is there’s always room for good writing and good ideas. Someone else getting published doesn’t mean you won’t be. Each writer is running to their own finish line- independent of everyone else. And I know some people will point out that you can be beaten to an idea, but *whispers* all ideas have been done before anyway, so that race is kinda run. The uniqueness you bring is usually in the telling.

writingWrite every day– well for one thing, I have a day job (and this blog), so that just isn’t possible. I do completely understand and think this is a great practice… it’s just completely impractical for most of us. I think scheduling it into your week is so important, but for some writers, who write in intense bursts, this won’t work. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get burn out (which is a bummer, but it happens). Sometimes, it’s okay to take breaks.

chill slothWrite in order that one day you won’t have to write so much– kinda coming full circle, but this attitude seems to come back to the people who are in it for the BIG PAYOUT (I feel like there are better fields than this for that, but whatever, some people really believe publishing is a giant money tree). I’m gonna be real, I don’t write to relax. That’s never been the point of it for me. And I feel like even if your ambition is to be a full-time writer, the whole point of that isn’t so that you get time off… it’s actually about aspiring to write MORE. So, yeah, if you have visions of chilling out by the pool with famous authors (as Matthew Wright wrote in a hilarious piece on this recently), maybe this isn’t the write field for you…

Oof- that was a little harsh there at times- but we got through it. What writing advice do you disagree with? Or maybe just aren’t entirely on board with? Let me know in the comments!

51 thoughts on “More Writing Advice I Don’t (entirely) Agree With

  1. “Write erotica because it sells.” What??? Although, I will have to say I think there’s something to this if you want a lucrative self-publishing career. Nearly all of the people I’ve seen say online that they self-publish and make a very good living from it are in the romance genre and make money off having a large quantity of books available. It seems like a better business plan than “self-publish one great literary novel and hope it takes off.” But, yeah, definitely a business plan more than passion for many people.

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    1. hehe yeah I agree that if you want a lucrative self-publishing career this is not bad advice (and if I’d said that was what I wanted, maybe this advice wouldn’t have been so awful 😉 ) but this was actually in response to me saying I like to write books… so it’s pretty insane advice 😂 The funniest thing is I’ve had it more than once AND heard other people getting this advice as well- and it’s just the worst 😂 If nothing else, it’s entirely unhelpful 😉 It’s basically the equivalent of saying “oh so you want to be movies- why not try porn?” Not trying to shame anyone, but I think it’s a rude thing to say (but also makes me laugh now).

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  2. The ‘write what you know’ should have a bit added to it: emotionally. Maybe bigger, maybe wider than personal experience. Why? Because the reader attaches to a character by relatability, and that comes through the emotional responses the character displays. It’s the big-ticket winner. In the end, that means the writer has to feel that emotion, that passion, as they write the character.
    Write in order that one day you won’t have to write so much – I think this is missing stuff, too. Write and learn from every piece, so that one day you won’t have to think so hard about every word or line. It’s the learning bit that matters. And then the writer doesn’t waste so much time having to think, and check, and research – quite so much.
    And my final observation: Writing is competitive.? I’ve put a question-mark behind this because the books may be in a field that is highly competitive (it’s why we strive to create the best story we can), but writing isn’t competitive. In fact, I’d say that the more we band together to help each other in the learning process, the more we learn ourselves.
    Thanks for the discussion, loved it.

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    1. I really love that point- cos I definitely do think it’s good to tap into personal experience (and do that a lot myself, which I got into a little in my last post). And couldn’t agree more! Love how you put that!
      That is such a wonderful way to put it! And I do agree with you there!
      And yeah absolutely- books may be in a competitive field, but I personally think it’s really not competitive and like your point about learning from each other 😊
      Thanks for reading and for your brilliant comment!

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  3. Here in New Zealand the richest writer I know of managed it by writing about 600 kids books (early readers), which sold into the US education market. But that’s an exception – the second richest writes vampire erotica and hit the NY Times best seller list, and I gather there are a fair number of others who churn out Mills & Boon. All of which points (shudder) to erotica/romance being the genre of choice if income is the object. The problem is that to write one of those things, you first have to read some…

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    1. hehe well that also says something about how you have to put the work in to get successful 😉 I definitely do think that writing erotica can make you money (and not trying to shame anyone), so I don’t think it’s bad advice if that’s what you want… but it’s incredibly rude to say to aspiring writers (like me and quite a number of other people now) when you say you write/want to write books. It’s basically saying, “oh so you want to act, why not do some porn?” 😂

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  4. I found myself agreeing with all of your points, but that last one! OMG, that advice is so inaccurate. I don’t think I know any writers who write so that they can write less. We all want to WRITE MORE. (Unless it’s query letters. We do want to write fewer of those.)

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  5. Oof… I enjoyed reading this so much! Especially the sensitive part. My creative writing workshop instructor, on the day certificates were handed out, gave me ‘advice’ that ‘your writing is too emotional’. And more fool me who said that I feel like after writing I’m tired, it drains me. And she jumped the gun, ‘See, I told you, you need to temper your writing so that it’s not that emotional’. !?!

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    1. Ahh I feel you so much, because to me, writing *should* be emotional! Yes, it’s a personal taste thing, but I like to read books that can make me feel things (and as much as it’s okay for someone to not want that, there should be room for people who *do* want that). To be honest, writing certain things drains me too, but I’ve never seen that as a bad thing. I think *a lot* of professional writers talk about that as well.

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  6. I gotta agree with everything you disagree with here too!! 😉 The only bone I might have to pick is about not making our writing autobiographical. Now, I’m not saying it should be. Nor that the majority of one’s writing should be. Or anything like that. But I don’t think it’s wrong to create an idealised version of yourself, your life, your circumstances into the characters and worlds your building. Or to imbue some of your actual, non-idealised bits in either. What I think I mean to say, after all of this waffle, is that 99% of the time, authors put something of their actual selves into their writing, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You know? (Do I even know at this point?) :’)

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    1. Thank you! Glad you agree! Oh I definitely get what you mean and agree with you there- that was a point I made more in my last post, cos admittedly I draw on *a lot* of my own experience. I’d be pretty hypocritical if I thought it wasn’t good to write what you know 😉 And I think imbuing traits- especially non-idealised ones- is a really good idea as well! So yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing at all, I just like to open up the possibility for people to write what they don’t know as well! (if that makes sense)

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  7. Books are not art- they’re purely commercial. WHAT?!!!!!
    I wish people would just STOP WITH THIS EROTICA NONSENSE!!!!!! I am sorry you received this piece of advice, love! This is terrible. First of all, you don’t write to sell, and secondly, you go write whatever the hell you want!
    Thank you for this (sad) post proving that too many people see writing rhyming with “making the big money” *facepalm*

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    1. I know!!! It’s crazy!!
      Yeahhh it’s the worst advice I’ve ever received, cos it actually came across as pretty rude (and funnily enough I’ve heard of other people getting this advice and I’ve somehow received it more than once!) Exactly!!
      Yeah unfortunately *far too many* people think that way! (and then are surprised to find it doesn’t work that way…)

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  8. I haven’t done much writing of fiction/books/stories (but I do probably 10-20 hours of sermon and Bible study writing per week). The advice that never quite worked for me is to “write quickly to get it all down as a rough draft and then go back and correct later.” The part of my personality that requires logic and precision doesn’t usually let me do that, so my first draft is usually not much different from my final draft other than a few spelling/grammar/punctuation tweaks.

    The “write erotica” one made me chuckle because a similar “Christianized” version has (in my opinion) severely damaged the field of “Christian fiction.” The biggest Christian publishers seem to all but require a romantic (but chaste) plotline in their historical fiction. I have a friend whose first novel was published through a major Christian publisher and when they asked me to review their first book my one major criticism was that the romance felt awkward/forced like it didn’t really belong in the story. It turns out it wasn’t an original part of the story, but the publisher all but forced them to include it because that’s what sold in the “Christian historical fiction” market…ugh.

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    1. Oh I actually really relate to not writing fast in hope that I can correct it later. I always preferred to plan and try and write cleaner (precise) first drafts (and tend to edit as I go as well, which isn’t advised, but works for me 😉) So yeah, I definitely have a similar personality quirk.

      Hehe that is really funny that it made you think of that! And yeah it does seem like weirdly similar advice- both pieces of advice are terrible, because things like that *really* shouldn’t be shoehorned in or made/encouraged to write something they don’t feel comfortable with!

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  9. Wow, I love this. I do think a lot about the criticism part. I’ve already had experiences in which I’m sensitive when someone gives their input on something I’ve written. It’s NERVE-WRACKING. I can take comments and improve, I just dread it when it happens. It’s nice that not everyone thinks writers should be tough as nails so that everything bounces off!

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    1. Thank you! Ah yes I really get that! I think that when it comes to criticism, it’s always good to deliver it in a thoughtful way, because then it’s actually constructive and can help (otherwise it’s just designed to hurt the person and that’s no good for anyone!) But I think also that it’s okay if you’re hurt by criticism- authors shouldn’t and couldn’t all be tough as nails- that’s not how we’re hardwired! And how would we be good at writing anything if we weren’t able to be sensitive?! And it’s not like it’s easy to turn it on and off like a tap! Not to say that everyone should have breakdowns when we get hurt, but I think we should give each other a break on that one 😉

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  10. I write science fiction – writing “what I know” is impossible 🙂 I think as Cagedunn says. You should write what you know “emotionally” perhaps, I think it also means do proper research when you write. I’ll sometimes research subjects or hours or days to make sure I get things write (even though sometimes all that gets into the book is just a single word–but it’s the right word.) Writing advice is good, but take what works for you and don;t fret if something doesn’t. I’ve also see advice handed out by some people that I’d say was deliberately wrong and harmful–caveat emptor always.
    I tend to agree with Somerset Maugham “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 🙂

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    1. I relate to that so much (since I write fantasy). And yeah I definitely with you both on those points- research and connecting to your own emotions is always a good idea. And that’s great! Absolutely agree with you!
      hahahaha I absolutely love that quote!! Thanks for sharing it!!

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  11. Ahh this is perfect! There is so much garbage writing advice out there that I can only roll my eyes at, and you laid out why they’re wrong so eloquently haha! I’m especially frustrated by the insistence on writing what you know (isn’t part of the point of writing to try to look at the world from a different perspective??) and writing every day (WHO has time or motivation for that). A lot of the problem I have with writing advice in general is that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else, so it’s just about finding what works best for you!

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    1. Thank you!! Ahh I really agree to be honest!! Ahhh yes!!! Absolutely!! I feel really frustrated whenever I see that advice! (bit hard for a fantasy writer as well 😉 ) And yes!! I feel like that’s super impractical for anyone living in the real world 😉 Absolutely agree with you!!

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  12. That sloth gif gives me life and that last piece of advice is pure rubbish and definitely aimed towards the ones that are looking for quick cash and grab. I also find that write erotica advice hilarious. People that legit believe this need to broaden their horizons a bit!

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  13. “Books are not art- they’re purely commercial”… Oh my, those words hurt to read! Pretty much agree with your commentary on that and the rest. There is no formula for creativity, maybe some tentative guideposts, but really we should all just do it whatever way suits us for whatever reason suits us, no? Besides, all following the same advice seems silly, given that we’re all different people, writing for different purposes. Imagine what would happen if the majority of writers followed this kind of bad advice. Infinite cringe.

    Writing advice I disagree with: “Write things other people will like”. A recipe for self loathing and writers block.

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    1. Ahh I know right!! Absolutely agree with you!! And yes, I don’t think it gives much room for individuality or personality quirks or different outlooks. hehehe yes.

      Oh gosh yes- I totally agree with you there. And I definitely see people getting hung up on “what readers like”- which is an impossible thing to pin down as it is as all readers are different and have different tastes. It’s bound to get a writer all tangled up and stuck!

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  14. “Write what you know” really bugs me!! I’ve seen some people take the #OwnVoices movement a step farther and say you can’t write main characters that aren’t your same race/gender/religion and I think that is total BS! Its taking an awesome movement that is meant to celebrate minorities and twisting it to become exclusive and boring. As long as a writer takes the time to research what they don’t know then who cares what they write?!?! Like you said, stories shouldn’t just be purely autobiographical!

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    1. Ahh I really really agree! It’s gotten so bad that it gets criticised across the board- even in fantasy?! (which doesn’t make sense to me- why would any fantasy writer want to write a world that looks exactly like our own?!) And yeah I very much agree with you- it’s taken a way to spotlight authors that might get overlooked otherwise and twisted it into something completely unproductive. I definitely agree with you!

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  15. I agree with so many of these! Esp. “if you’re insecure, this is not the field for you”… I would have though insecurity was one of the defining features of writers 🙂 Obviously you don’t want too much of it, but as you said, to a point it can be helpful because you’re striving to be better. Also to be honest, I’ve seen examples of people genuinely claiming their book is better than anything else ever written in the history of all time… and that kind of over confidence just convinces me it most likely isn’t 😆

    One other piece of advice I often see that I disagree with: “get up early and do your writing in the morning”. Maybe that works for some people, but I’ve tried it and failed miserably. My best writing time is usually late at night after everyone else has gone to sleep!

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    1. Ah I definitely agree with you there! Sure, it’s important to try and toughen yourself up, but it’s also necessary to be sensitive sometimes (and I’d definitely class writing as one of those times) and while it might be ideal to pop on a different hat and stop being sensitive when seeking feedback, but personality traits aren’t don’t usually have an on-off switch 😉 hahahaha oh gosh I so agree! I definitely also think that not being sensitive enough means you’re not gonna be open to criticism and is far more likely to lead to an inflated ego… whose work I’d definitely avoid 😉

      Oh yeah- really agree with you there! Especially cos I’m a night owl 😉 And people saying “train yourself to be a morning person” drives me crazy in general- I can be productive at night, but have done the whole early morning thing… it’s not for me. (also the benefits of it being quiet when no one else is up is true of late nights as well, like you said!)

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