Annie Debunks Common Writing Advice

As a young writer, people are often all to eager to give me advice.  My age and desired profession give off the idea that I’m young and naïve and have very little perspective on “making it big” as a writer.  To an effect, they’re right: I am young, I am somewhat naïve, but I’d like to think I have at least a fraction idea of what being a writer requires.

While advice is greatly appreciated, I’ve found that not all advice is created equal.  Guidance, whether coming from a stranger or a published author, can be calloused or misleading, with the intention of removing the rose-colored glasses or telling you that success is only achievable through a certain method.  I don’t think so.

Before writing this post, I googled “advice for young writers” and clicked on the first \ articles that came up.  Here are some of the tips I found, and why I think they’re bogus.

1. Expect failure.
This is good advice… to a point.  It is unrealistic that your first query will be accepted, your first manuscript will be published, your first attempt will be a raging success.  That’s a reality of the industry.  However, we should also understand that it only takes one “yes” to make something happen.  Keep trying not in spite of the overwhelming possibility of failure, but because you could, and will, be the one to defy the odds.

Related Post: An Open Letter to People who Tell Me Writers Don’t Make Money

2. Follow grammar conventions.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King writes that “language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.”  To me, this makes plenty of sense.  So long as your prose is comprehensible, who cares if you write in fragments?  Breaking grammatical rules, and how you break them, shows voice and personality.  The rules your grammar school teacher pounded into your brain only apply if you want them to.

3. “Said” is dead.
This may be one of my least favorite pieces of advice, because “said” is SUCH an underrated word.  When describing dialogue, “said” functions like punctuation.  It may not add flowery description to the scene, but it moves the story along and gives the character’s dialogue the opportunity to speak for itself.  By using “said,” your dialogue has to have some punch, some personality.  Straying from “said” is necessary at times, but complicated dialogue tags are easy to trip over.  Keep it simple.

Related Post: Annie Talks Dialogue Tags

4. Write what you know.
Unless you are writing a memoir, it’s practically impossible to write what you know and only what you know.  The point of fiction is to create an interesting story, not to limit yourself to the topics on which you have expertise.  Do your research, gain the knowledge you need, and write whatever kind of story you want to write.

5. Outline.
Outlining can be a useful tool for first-time writers, but it isn’t always the golden device everyone makes it out to be.  When writing a first draft, the objective is to get the story as you know it down on paper.  If you’re like me, you don’t always know the entire story when you sit down to write.  Let your characters drive the plot for the first draft and overhaul in revision if you must.

Related Post: Annie’s Take on Outlining (and Why She Doesn’t Like It)

What “good” writing advice do you think is actually bad advice?

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22 thoughts on “Annie Debunks Common Writing Advice

  1. I appreciate the last comment particularly, as I’ve never been a big outliner! I find it a lot easier to get into the swing of my story once I’ve just sat down and started writing, than having to work it out beforehand.

  2. Great post! Advice is great, but sometimes need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
    Like… i wouldn’t imagine Cormac McCarthy was listening to any of these and he’s great! Sometimes being different is better than conforming to rules.

  3. Wonderful advice all around Annie! I really am right there with you on Outlining. I’ve found outlining actually is a barrier to me when I’m writing a first draft of something. I just need to let my mind go to work, create, and then come back and tidy things up in the next draft. Otherwise I find that my passion for a project burns out during the outline process. It’s also really easy to go overboard when outlining, which can be a barrier to a lot of fiction writers.

  4. I think grammar rules are important for understanding what’s trying to be said and conveyed, but I think they can be broken in certain instances. Like in the Chaos Walking series, if there’s an intense scene, the author writes stream-of-thought with run-on sentence upon run-on sentence. And it totally works, but only because that’s how people think in those situations. But I think breaking grammar conventions just because you don’t like them hinders understanding of the writing

  5. I so agree with #2! If you’re hoping to write a realistic sounding novel, you need to have some parts with fragments and such, as long as they’re ccapable of being comprehensive. Xoxo

  6. Hello Annie! Love your mythbusters-style post here 🙂 I absolutely agree that “said” is underrated. Often I get annoyed when authors try too hard to incorporate verbs and adverbs into dialogue. I also agree that outlining is not for everyone – some people find that it really helps them but others not so much. I love the outlining process but my characters usually get ideas of their own halfway through 🙂

  7. This was such a helpful and true post, I loved it! I totally agree with so much of it, I hate been told to write what I know and from my own experience because there’s not a lot to write about and to not what I want to write about! The same with outlining, I try to do plans because people always imply it’s necessary but they just really don’t work for me! Great post, thanks 🙂 x