by Edie Melson
Have you noticed the phenomenon that occurs when you confess you’re writing a book? It doesn’t matter if you’re an established author with thirty-plus books under your belt or someone working on a first novel. Announce you’re writing a book, and you’re in for as much irritating advice as any first-time pregnant woman.
Here is my top 10 list of Unsolicited Writing Advice You Should NEVER Follow.
1. Write what you know. On the surface, this may sound like savvy advice. It’s not. With the advent of the Internet, you can do the research you need to write about almost anything.
2. Write every day. Again, it sounds good. Surely someone who’s serious about something will do it every day. Truthfully, we all work better when we take time to relax and let our minds rest.
3. Never read while you’re writing. I’ve never found this to inhibit my output or the quality of my work. I’ve found that reading keeps the writing fire stoked. Just be sure you’re not reading instead of writing.
4. Write dialogue like you talk. We all want the dialogue we write to read like a real conversation. But the smart writer knows that means taking the boring parts out. Listen to a real conversation or better yet, record one. Then write it out. You’ll see how truly awful it is.
5. Never use clichés. Never is NEVER good advice when it comes to writing. Sure you want to avoid clichés—in narrative. But the fact is, we all use them occasionally. Judiciously sprinkling them throughout dialogue can give your writing a familiar flavor that helps the reader connect with your characters.
6. Never use the verb was, it’s passive. Sometimes the word was is passive, sometimes is just past tense. How to tell? The quickest way is to see if it’s helping another verb, like, She was sleeping. That’s almost always passive. A better option would be, She slept.
7. Always outline before you write. Some people are known as plotters—or those who prefer to outline their story before writing. Others, referred to as pantsters or intuitive writers, like to discover the story as they write. The best way to do it? The way that works for you.
8. Real writers don’t have to do rewrites. I’ve never spoken to a writer who didn’t need to do rewriters. I’ve heard rumors, but I suspect I’m more likely to get an in-focus picture of a Sasquatch than meet one of those elusive novelists.
9. Always write in the same place. Most of us need variety, and that includes the place we work. Sometimes I write at my desk, others at the dining room table, and on good days, the screened porch out back.
10. Don’t begin to build a platform until you have a contract. This is the worst advice I’ve ever heard, and there are two major reasons. First, if you wait until you have a contract to build your platform, you’ll probably have a hard time getting said contract. Second, you will be way behind. It takes a good year to a year-and-a-half to build a viable platform.
As you may have noticed, the first clue the advice you’re hearing is suspect are the use of the words ALWAYS and/or NEVER. There are very few absolutes in the world of publishing.
Now it’s your turn, what’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Edie Melson is the author of four books, a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the social media columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and social media mentor for My Book Therapy. Connect with her through Twitter, Facebook, and her popular blog for writers, www.thewriteconversation.com.