What's the worst writing advice you've ever been given?
Mine is "you have to write every day." Totally impractical for so many of us, but you hear this all the time! I have a writing schedule, but it is *not* daily.
(Full disclosure: I'm writing an article about this on spec and would like to mention some of your "worst advice," so please let me know if you're willing to share. If not, would still be curious to hear your worst advice!)
I don't have any 'worst' writing advice to cite, but only because I always believed writing creative fiction shouldn't be bound by rules and guidelines. I'll read it, may even comment on it, and have shared some things that work for me, but when I sit down to create... I come up with my own rules on how I plan to deliver a story, and then close my eyes and deliver it... creating only what I see.
I think the worst advice I ever got was 'learn to write like Hemingway'. My teacher hated lush, descriptive styles and would insist on us using the sparest of sentences. I understand it would have made us better editors of our own writing, but mostly,it just scared me off my true style. I couldn't write without being plagued by doubt. It's been 7 years and I'm only now getting over all the self doubt.
Hemingway's style is typical of writers who began as journalists. I personally prefer authors with a lush style, and there are many highly successful ones. Pat Conroy and John Updike come immediately to mind.
Ha ha! There is sure a lot of chatter about the "show don't tell" school of thought! I find that very interesting. I am a total newbie at novel writing, and I hadn't even heard of the "SDT" until I got my first correspondence with my editor. I did go back through my manuscript and tweaked a few things here and there, but I couldn't bring myself to change my own style. And, I wrote my book like it was one that I really would enjoy reading. Of course... the editing process is still ongoing... we'll see what happens!
"Write what you know." The overpopulation of Mary Sues is, I'm sure, because of that piece of sage advice.
I agree. If I wrote everyday, even when I was not inspired, I would trash 75% of my writing. When I have a deadline, I write more often (deadlines actually inspire me!). When I don't have a deadline, I'm thinking about my latest project a lot, and doing research. And, I don't write every day.
Similar to what people have said about overuse on show don't tell, the one I hear is "always use the active voice." It's a bit ridiculous, because there are some constructions which don't work when active, and some that need to be passive to emphasize the subject.
I am angered by the prevalence of such advice :)
I actually think writing every day is great advice. The more you incorporate writing into your daily life, the better you get at it. I know it sounds impossible to do but I get up at 6 so that I have at least an hour to write before the rest if the family wakes up. That doesn't mean every day of writing produces great work, but like yoga, or running, it's a practice. If you don't turn writing into a daily habit, it takes that much longer for the creative gears to start turning on the day that you set aside just for writing.
I agree. I think this advice is the pinnacle of what to strive for. It isn't necessary the most practical piece of advice, but I don't think there's any inherent flaw in it. I think demands about "how much" to write every day is bad, because you might end up producing something bad if you don't have enough inspiration to reach that quota, but I think every writer can come up with something each day that's worth their while.
I got over my fear of the long form by joining NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, the writing marathon that happens every November, where participants commit to writing a 50,000 word novel by November 30. That requires you to write 1,667 words every day and that's what I did. By December 1, I had the bones of my first novel. Of those 50,000 words written, I used maybe 10, for the first sentence of that novel. The experience was grueling but useful in that it forced me to make a habit of daily writing. Some days you feel like you're just typing rather than creating wonderful new work, but the physical act of writing is a skill that can be developed just like any other with regular practice, just like driving or cooking or surfing. That of course doesn't guarantee you'll become an excellent writer, just one who is better than the occasional writer
I actually wrote against NaNoWriMo in a recent post on my website, because I respect the idea of getting people to write consistently, but the strict daily number of how many words to write (among other issues) seem counterproductive. Everybody's heard that quote about how James Joyce getting 7 words out of order was good for a day's work for him, and he wrote what's considered the best novel ever. I tend to average around the NaNo daily requirements when I work organically anyway, but I think it's also good for a writer to know when it's a day to call it quits after only 800 words because nothing past that will turn out well.
The 1,667 words are not a 'requirement' but just a suggested figure so that participants don't fall too far behind with word count. Writers can stop before or beyond that figure. Some people procrastinate, then sprint to the finish in the last 48 hours. Others (like me) log that minimum every day and finish like turtles.
I believe the goal is not to come up with a publishable novel in one month but to get into the habit of writing every day. It bears noting though that there have been Nano participants that did eventually turn their 1-month novel into a published piece. And in fact, that's what I did with mine. Three years after rewriting that awful first draft, I signed with Penguin books. We're doing final revisions and cover design now and the book is set for release in May 2013. What can I say, I owe Nano for instilling a daily writing habit.