The writing advice I wilfully ignore

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!

Don’t use…”

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!

What writing advice do you ignore? What advice do you follow? How do you determine what does and doesn’t work for you?

  One thought on “The writing advice I wilfully ignore

  1. 24/08/2019 at 6:08 PM

    You’re so right. Advice will always work for some, and not forever. The rule is, there are no rules. ❤ Great post x

    Liked by 1 person

    • 24/08/2019 at 6:11 PM

      Thank you! And I love that phrase “the rule is, there are no rules”. So true when it comes to anything creative!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 27/08/2019 at 4:23 AM

    Great post, Rebecca. I’m guilty of trying to follow the don’t use rule, especially with adverbs because when they’re overused they irritate me. I’m going to adopt your point of view, and allow them to be used sparsely.
    As for points 1 – 3, I completely agree with you. 😊❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • 27/08/2019 at 10:56 AM

      Thanks Lorraine! I agree that adverbs are annoying when they’re overused…but OVERused is the key! I’ve seen so many write about why we shouldn’t use adverbs, but they exist for a reason, right? Sometimes, a well placed adverb is effective 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. 27/08/2019 at 4:37 AM

    Rule no.4 especially resonates with me. I want my writing to flow organically and not be uniform like everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 27/08/2019 at 10:53 AM

      I know the feeling! Variety and flow in your writing is so important, which is why I only take rule #4 in teeny tiny doses!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 28/08/2019 at 12:19 AM

    Absolutely love this post! I also think that some advice is worth ignoring. I definitely agree with you on “write what you know”- it can stifle creativity and doesn’t make much sense if you write lots of fantasy 😉 Better to research and expand beyond what you know, like you said. I’m definitely in the edit as you go camp (even though I get why this exists, editing as I go hasn’t affected my progress, since I know I can finish a draft regardless). I also think it’s a good to take a days off and I don’t like trying to hit arbitrary word count quotas. Couldn’t agree with you more about #4- I’m always suspicious of advice that starts “don’t use”- definitely agree some things should be used in moderation, but they also come down to preference and I think ruling things out like passive voice or adverbs hurts writing and isn’t all that helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 28/08/2019 at 10:56 AM

      Half the reason I write is to submerge myself in the life and emotions of people (er…characters) who are different from me, so sticking to writing what I already know would be boring and defeat the purpose!! Glad you enjoyed the post 😊

      Like

  5. 28/08/2019 at 9:56 AM

    I’m a big believer in ignoring the “Don’t use” rule. Writers need to be able to write in whatever way makes the story better. That’s the only absolute rule I believe–Thou shalt not write a boring story! I also hate it when editor say you shouldn’t write a prologue. I write fantasy–prologues are the best part!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 28/08/2019 at 10:52 AM

      Omg YES! The number of times I’ve seen people say never ever write a prologue…they are literally my favourite thing to read and write! They can be so mysterious and exciting, especially in fantasy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. 31/08/2019 at 1:19 PM

    A few years ago I found a site full of writers who may have been the angriest writers I have ever stumbled upon. Their favorite advice was the burn the first book you write because nobody will ever want to read it. Yes, I moved on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 31/08/2019 at 3:53 PM

      Wow that’s pretty extreme!! Even if it’s not something anyone will want to read, your very first book should always be treasured. It’s your FIRST BOOK after all!!

      Like

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