Friday, March 13, 2009

The Worst Advice You’ve Gotten?

image I’m sure I give out writing advice sometimes, but I expect everyone to ignore it. If there’s any advice I’d give about writing, it would be: Find your own path.

I’ve learned a lot from others. I do like to notice where people have regrets or make mistakes, so I don’t need to tread the same path.

But there is one bit of advice that has done me no good, and in fact, wasted quite a bit of my time: Write what you love to read.

Bollocks. (I love saying that. Pardon me.)

I love reading spy thrillers but can’t seem to write one for the life of me. I love reading light mysteries but I doubt I’ll ever write one. I don’t read my own genre anymore.

So I’m curious: What writing advice is the worst you’ve ever gotten? The best?

And I took a fun quiz asking Which Austen Heroine Are You? Who are you? I’m Marianne Dashwood:

You are Marianne Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are impulsive, romantic, impatient, and perhaps a bit too brutally honest. You enjoy romantic poetry and novels, and play the pianoforte beautifully. To boot, your singing voice is captivating. You feel deeply, and love passionately.

30 bonus scribbles:

Melanie Avila 3/13/2009 01:44:00 PM  

Hmm... you were the last person to give me advice on my writing... :P I wouldn't say I've had bad advice per se, I just get annoyed with people who give blanket advice and think it will apply to everyone. There's someone I know from a writing forum who always says to cut the first chapter or two. As you saw from my wip, that wasn't my problem, and if I'd listened to him a lot would be missing.

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:59:00 PM  

Oh no, Melanie! LOL! See? I immediately put it out of my mind.

I really hate it when people say to that everyone should cut the first X number of pages. Like you said, it's definitely not everyone's problem! Not mine, either.

Angie 3/13/2009 04:09:00 PM  

I'm assuming you mean aside from the usual garbage everyone gets from multiple English teachers who choose to mark a piece of fiction as though it were a formal essay? [wry smile] I particularly love when they insist all your dialogue be written in perfect formal English. :P

Aside from that, one that sticks in my mind was a book by a guy whose personal approach to fiction was about as character-based as it gets. He insisted that you had to start by developing a character, fully and completely, and then the story would just flow from the character, who they were and what they wanted and all. He was quite adamant about this, and declared that it was impossible to write a good story by starting out with a plot or scenario or whatever.

Ummm, sure. [eyeroll]

As with most advice, I'm sure they works for him, and it probably even works for quite a number of other writers, but it doesn't work for anywhere near every writer.

Oh, and the adverb nazis piss me off too. You know, the people in workshops whose sole contribution is to circle all your adverbs and tell you to delete them? [eyeroll]

And any teacher -- of writing, yes, but really of anything -- who makes their students *JOURNAL!!* Because we all know that *JOURNALING!!* is the most absolutest-wonderfulest thing evar and everyone should do it! Every teacher -- even at the college level -- seems to think that they're the first person in your life who has ever suggested you keep a journal. Because of course, if anyone ever had suggested it, you'd have tried it and loved it and would be doing it daily, right? Right?!?!

Personally, I loathe journaling. I've tried it a number of times, the first three on my own and then the next... however many (I'm blocking the experiences out of my memory, seriously) in various classes where it was a non-optional assignment. :P Journaling just doesn't work for me, no matter how enthusiastic the teacher might be about it. A number of writing teachers (and people who write books on creative writing) seem to think that journaling is just all that and a bag of chips if you're into anything creative, that it'll unlock the secret door to your out-pouring creativity and keep the flow of golden words flowing forever, yay! And if you show any reluctance then you obviously haven't tried it!

As with the character-centric thing, I'm sure it works for the people pushing it, and for any number of other people as well. It doesn't work for everyone, though, and by the time I hit college I'd lost patience with the whole concept. Any teacher who assigned it got the stink-eye in class and a major complaint during office hours. (I was an Older Student and not quite so docile about taking crap as the eighteen-year-olds.)


StarvingWriteNow 3/13/2009 04:44:00 PM  

If you're "throwing the baby out the window" on the first page, why cut it? I can understand cutting the first few chapters if it is all backstory or something, but not when you hit the page running.

PS: You're definitely Marianne--now get back to your pianoforte!

Jill Wheeler 3/13/2009 06:38:00 PM  

Regarding journaling, I don't think you can fault all teachers who tout the merit of it. I have my kids journal, but it's mainly to get them to write regularly because otherwise they'd never get any practice.

Edie 3/13/2009 07:43:00 PM  

I can't think of anything specific, but I don't journaling either. If I journal, I feel like I've done my writing and now I can goof off.

Janet 3/13/2009 07:53:00 PM  

Worst advice? Just write, it can all be fixed later.

Well, that's true of micro issues, like language and description. But if you haven't done your research and major plot points come to depend on a faulty foundation, you have a problem that is really, really hard to fix. Military buffs are going to be chastising me if my novel ever gets published for making something happen much faster than possible.

Next time, I'll stop whenever I have to do research. Or do it first.

Lisa 3/13/2009 08:30:00 PM  

Worst advice recommending that I try to write what people want to read, versus what I want to write.
granted, we would hope that people WOULD want to read what we've written, however, we can't really second guess what others will or will not read, so trying to write to please others without knowing what will actually please them can be daunting.

writtenwyrdd 3/13/2009 09:40:00 PM  

I'm apparently Anne Elliott.

Worst advice I have seen bouncing around the blogosphere is that I cannot write an epic tome. I mean, come one, doesn't everyone get to write a 500 page break out novel?

Seriously, the idea that it's impossible to sell huge epics when they seem to be published in teh sf genre is bad advice. I think it can be done, and I'm planning on trying. But that said, it better b e a really good book!

writtenwyrdd 3/13/2009 09:43:00 PM  

Oh, and I had the adverb nazis and the Tom Swifty haters. Had a critique partner who gave great advice but absolutely couldn't handle anyone having an adverb on a dialog tag EVER. (That's a Tom Swifty, for "Tom said swiftly")

Amy Nathan 3/13/2009 10:19:00 PM  

The worst advice I received was very specific and related to making a serious scene funny. Um, not everything is funny although much seriousness is life has elements of humor it. But not all.

I did the Austen quiz too - and posted it. What fun. Now I can wile away the rest of the night pretending I am a character in a novel. Yeah, that's productive.

Charles Gramlich 3/13/2009 10:43:00 PM  

Probably the best advice I've ever gotten is "Good writing is rewriting."

The worst: "Write what you know."

I say write what you want to know.

Robin 3/14/2009 10:01:00 AM  

The worst writing advice I ever got was from my husband. "Why don't you get up at 5am when it's nice and quiet, and you'd just be sleeping anyway?"


G 3/14/2009 12:46:00 PM  

I'm not sure if got any bad advice about my writing.

If I did, I would simply shrug it off.

Most people who give what I consider to be "bad advice", really don't have a clue about what they're talking about.

As for good advice, I've gotten bits and pieces, mostly from my fellow bloggers who were kind enough to take the time and offer solid answers to a few of my questions.

Beyond that, I simply read what other people are saying in their blogs and try to apply it to my writing (so far it has worked).

But (having just remembered something while writing this post), the best advice I ever gotten and it wasn't given to me directly, was to do an outline.

I did a brief outline for a short story I was stuck on, and lo and behold, after writing it, I got unstuck.

Aimless Writer 3/14/2009 01:34:00 PM  

All this time I thought you wrote spy stuff! What genre do you write in?
Worst advice? I hate when they try to change the story. Like they think it would be better if it were a love story instead of a murder mystery.
But it's not supposed to be a love story!

Angie 3/14/2009 07:50:00 PM  

Aimless -- one of my early commenters said that I should take the "soapy stuff" out! LOL! Maybe we should swap friends...? :D


Zoe Winters 3/14/2009 10:13:00 PM  

Worst advice I ever got? "Don't publish your own books."

I could have been doing this four years ago, but I let other people steer my ship.

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:25:00 PM  

Wow, Angie, I had no idea! I've never taken writing in college, so I didn't know they were obsessed with journalling.

I tried to write a diary for years, but always failed. The closest I've ever come to journalling is this blog. :-)

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:25:00 PM  

Totally, WriteNow! And yeah, I'm tickling the ivories with my fingers, for sure!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:26:00 PM  

Jill, it sounds like it would be great writing exercise for kids. In fact, I was just reading about a homeschool parent who made his kids write 1 page a day: it could be essay, fiction, letter to parent... whatever. The more you write, LOL!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:27:00 PM  

Edie, some days my mind tries to convince me of that after I've blogged! :-)

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:28:00 PM  

Janet, I take the time to stop and think, too. I don't like deleting massive amounts of junk, but that takes lots of thinking things through.

I agree! It's whatever you prefer!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:29:00 PM  

That would be daunting, Lisa! I tend to write for my readers, but I do get, er... daunted? I understand my little niche readers, but the world at large? Too big! Too different!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:31:00 PM  

Writtenwyrdd, I have been recently trying out a few more adverbs in my fiction. It's a bit terrifying, as I've read so much admonition on the subject, LOL!

I want to write an epic tome. (Seriously.) Just the sheer act of writing some 200K epic would be phenomenal. And just think how much our writing skills would grow in the process! It would certainly be stretching every skill we've got.

I think it's a fantastic idea!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:32:00 PM  

Amy, I wile away hours every day doing that! :-) I spend more time in my fictional worlds than I do my real ones, leastways it sometimes feels like that!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:32:00 PM  

Charles, I don't like that "Write what you know," thing, either.

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:33:00 PM  

HAH! Oh, Robin, wow. You know, I was obsessed with 4:30am for awhile. I like it in the summer, on my front porch. So quiet and peaceful. Just me and the story.

No one's blogged yet, so not even that distracts me, LOL!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:54:00 PM  

G, that's a great point. Even the act of considering and rejecting "bad" advice makes us think, and therefore refine our understandings.

I'm a pantser, but I like an outline "after the fact." Otherwise I can't keep it in my head!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:57:00 PM  

LOL, Aimless! That's hilarious! But true, I've certainly seen it said before!

I write (shhhhh! don't tell!) stuff. ;-) But I've been trying to write a spy thriller for ages. I'm pretty sure I've given up. I'm pretty sure it's just something I love to read, watch, and research. It's been about four years, and I don't even have HALF a spy thriller to show for it!

spyscribbler 3/14/2009 11:58:00 PM  

Zoe, I definitely believe in finding your own path!