Writing advice can be interpreted in many different ways, and should always be critically assessed before deciding if it’s right for you. In this post, I share four pieces of writing advice I don’t put much stock in, and am eager to discuss what advice YOU wilfully ignore! →
If there is one thing I have learned in the 2 years I have been a part of the online writing community, it’s that there is a hell of a lot of writing advice out there…much of it contradictory, much of it cringe-worthy, and much of it I wilfully ignore. Like with any advice, writing advice can be interpreted in many different ways, and should always be critically examined before adopting it to determine if it’s right for you.
In this post, I take a brief look at four pieces of writing advice that I don’t put much stock in, or choose to look at from a different angle. Some of it I dismissed out of hand the moment I heard it, while others I tested for myself before discarding. The important thing is to understand that advice is there to guide your way, and should never be considered and hard-and-fast rule. I’d love to hear what writing advice you follow, and which pieces you ignore!
“Write what you know“
I’m not sure if I’m completely missing the point of this piece of advice, but every time I see it, it makes me roll my eyes. While it can certainly help to have experience or understanding of the subject matter of a story, that is in no way a guarantee that the story will actually be good.
Also, limiting yourself to writing about things you “know” is quite stifling to creativity. Would the genre of fantasy have ever emerged if people weren’t willing—and able—to write about things beyond the realm of their personal experience?
I have learned so much about society and the world through research for writing projects that strictly weren’t what I knew, and I don’t regret it for a moment!
“Don’t edit as you write“
Now, I do actually understand where this one is coming from. In order to maintain the momentum of writing a draft, especially a first draft, it makes sense to refrain from editing and just write, write, write! However, I’ll unashamedly admit to often doing the opposite.
When I sit down at the beginning of a writing session, I go back and read the last chapter or scene to put myself back in the mindset of where I was. If I spot words or lines or paragraphs that need a little tweaking, I just go ahead and do it! Why wait to “fix” something when I can fix it now?
Of course, I try not to spend too much time making these minor edits while drafting. But so long as you remain focused on what you wish to achieve, and that the editing doesn’t interfere with progressing the story, there is little harm in editing while you write!
“Write every day“
The thing with writing advice is that one size does not fit all, and it’s up to individual writers to figure out what works for them, but for some reason the whole “write a little every day” theory rubs me the wrong way. It’s not even about the inability to write every day—it’s that I don’t want to.
During NaNoWriMo last year, I proved to myself that I can write a little every day for an extended period of time, and that it’s a great way of making significant progress. It’s also utterly exhausting. Even those who write for a living need to take days off, after all!
I don’t want to get to the point where I’m sitting at my desk, staring at a blank screen, burnt out and stressed because I have to meet some arbitrary daily word quota. That’s why I think it’s important for writers to focus on writing (A) when they can, and (B) when they want to!
How many times have you seen a piece of writing advice which says “don’t use passive voice” or “don’t use adverbs” or “don’t use adjectives” or “don’t use dialogue tags”? The list goes on, right? When it comes to advice telling you not to use any kind of writing element, take it with a grain of salt.
I’m not exactly sure when, or why, the concept of “don’t overuse” became “don’t use” at all. Like with eating a balanced diet, it’s important to use certain writing elements in moderation, but the answer to preventing their overuse is not to eliminate them altogether.
Unfortunately, it can often be hard to find the right balance because all writers—and readers—have their own personal preferences. My philosophy is just to remain open to using any and all writing elements if they work well in the context!