Bad Writing Advice

Have you ever received bad writing advice? Oh, come on. You know you have. Here are a few nuggets writers have heard over the years.

-Write what you know. While this can make sense to a certain degree, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone. If you want to write about serial killers, does this mean you have to become one first? If you want to write about dragons and unicorns, do you need to own one, or see them before you can start your story? Ah, no.

-Remove all commas. Editors don’t like them. They pull you out of the story. All commas are evil. Seriously? As a freelance editor, I can only shake my head at that one.

-Submit your story to agents to see if it’s ready. The feedback they give you will help you fix anything before you contact NY publishers directly. Ack! No, no, no. Don’t do this. The only feedback you’ll get will be form rejection letters. Agents were not put on this earth to work for free. Yes, they’ll help you fix your manuscript if you’re their client, but they aren’t available to critique everybody’s work. And most big publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, so without an agent, they won’t look at your work.

-Start your story with a super exciting dream sequence, and don’t reveal it’s a dream until you’ve really hooked the reader, like twenty pages into the story. Grrr… How would you feel if you were the reader? The author hooks you, making you believe the story is about one thing, written with a fast pace, only for you to learn twenty pages in that it was all a dream? The real story had nothing to do with the pages you just read. Don’t waste a reader’s time. What’s the point of hooking him, if you’re going to turn him off right away? This is not how to build a readership.

-So what if your grammar and spelling isn’t that great. Readers know not everyone can spell. That doesn’t mean you can’t write. Yikes. This is somewhat true. But if you struggle with spelling and grammar, you can’t ignore the issue. You need to have someone, who’s good with language, go through the MS. This could be a critique partner, a proofreader, or an editor. But don’t send your book out into the world with spelling or grammar mistakes in every paragraph. Readers are not that forgiving.

-Describe a character’s physical appearance in detail. In this market, most readers want a faster flowing story, which means details like the character’s appearance need to be layered into the story instead of lumped together in an info dump. A good guideline to use is to describe one or three things about a character in one shot, then move on. If the character is a walk-on, meaning we won’t see them again, only use one descriptor, as this person isn’t important to the overall story. Why use three descriptors instead of two? Of course, you can use two. Nobody is going to reject your story if you do. However, odd numbers tend to balance the description out more. That’s all.

Obviously, there are many other bad pieces of writing advice out there. Why don’t you share the worst writing advice you’ve heard?

Lynnette Labelle

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