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.
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.
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?