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Five bad pieces of writer advice

There's more advice for writers out there than ever. You need to know that 1. A lot of it is bad 2. A lot of it doesn't apply to you; it was that writer's experience. 3. It doesn't go away, but happily, you can ignore it.

Here are my top five worst pieces of writing advice:

1. Never respond to a potential publisher with more than a 'thank you for reading' or 'thank you for your time' if your manuscript is rejected. This one actually drives me crazy as I hear it so often. It might be true as some very general rule (yes, I'm trying to be generous) but in specific cases, it is not at all true and you can lose your chance at publication if you blindly adhere to it. 

In two cases with two entirely different publishers, I responded, honestly and to the point (no whining), after a deeply considered rejection and in the end, I was asked to send in a revision that was accepted for publication. 

So how do you know the difference? Publishers and editors are people just like everybody else. There are no gods reviewing your work. If someone sends you a deeply thought out --this is the key--not a formula--rejection, it is absolutely worth taking a chance and responding politely and briefly if you believe he or she misunderstood something in their reading and that the flaws they pointed out are something you can fix relatively quickly (not in a year). 

You can email me or comment below if you want me to expand on that. 

2. Never query agents in August.  This reminds me of 'don't wear white after Labor Day.' Anyone out there old enough to remember that? I've queried and received responses from plenty of agents in August. You know what? The vast majority of agents will update their guidelines and tell you the dates about querying very specifically. They'll tell you when they take queries and when they don't. Some work in August; some do not. Check their guidelines but you don't have to assume every agent won't respond in August. I've had plenty of responses. 

3. Never use adverbs. I hope you're getting the picture here. I don't like 'always' and 'nevers.' It is absurd to eliminate an entire portion of the English language. Of course, there's space for adverbs in good writing. A fine place to use adverbs is in a scene in which a character is thinking. 

For example: "He wondered why she was walking so quickly."  You don't have to change "walking so quickly" to running unless you're working on Flash and wordcount is your top priority. 

Example #2: "She thought: He's speaking so angrily. What's up with that?" There's nothing wrong with that line. No need to delete the adverb. 

There are other adverbs such as: often, also, and however. There's nothing wrong with using them in your work. And I don't care what anyone says, sometimes "very big" makes more sense than "large" and it also depends on the age of your character. A child might be far more likely to use "very big" than large and "very small" might sound more natural than little, bite-sized, or minuscule, depending on the context. 

4. You cannot change genres once you publish your first novel. Yes, I've read all about author recognition and so on. I won't give it more air time here. You should write whatever you enjoy writing, whatever you are most passionate about. Without passion, your work will fall flat. Just published a young adult novel and want to write for adults? Do it. Did you write historical fiction and now you want to try magical realism? Yes, please! Go ahead. Do not let bad advice stop you from writing what's driving you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. You are meant to be enjoying the ride, not adhering to some rigid rules someone hacked out as though you're a soldier in a writer's army. 

5. My all-time most read, most disliked advice is this one: write every day. If you have time to write every day, that's great. If it suits you, by all means. But it's absurd that this is standard writer's advice on so many blogs.  Most of us have day jobs, families, responsibilities or just don't feel like it. I don't write every day. I can go a month without writing. That doesn't mean someone else is more of a writer. It doesn't mean anything. I do something for my writing career every day. That's advice I can get behind. I might put out a newsletter, write a blog post like this one, write a review of another book, send an interview to another author for this site, post an interview, research something, spend time as a beta reader (yes, you learn a lot from others' work, plus you build community), you get the idea. It would be impossible for me to spend time marketing my work, querying magazines and publishers, taking care of my family, working at my day job, and writing every day. It doesn't make me less productive than someone who writes every day. I see this advice so often and still don't get it. It's been around for years. Time for it to go. 

The best writing advice--always--is whatever works for you!

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Sunday, 14 July 2024

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