Bad bad bad writing advice

Holly Black wisely points out that all writing advice can be bad. And Sherwood Smith writes some excellently out-and-out bad writing advice: “Write it in a week and send it instantly because professionals don’t revise. They get it right the first time.”

That’s like the worst advice ever. Can anyone top that?

The worst I can come up with are all variations on Sherwood’s: “Your first drafts are genius. Don’t change a thing!” Though how about, “It’s always best to invent your own system of spelling. It makes you stand out as a writer.”

I can think of lots of post-publication advice that would lead to career suicide:

  • Make sure to email your publicist every day to make helpful suggestions for selling your book.
  • Your editor and copyeditor are always wrong. Feel free to entirely ignore their edits.
  • Call your agent often demanding to know why they haven’t gotten you on Oprah yet.
  • If you are on a panel at a convention make sure you stay on message and steer all conversation back to you and your book. Make sure you bring a great big stack of them to show everyone.
  • If your local bookseller doesn’t have your book. Demand to know why. Do they not know who you are?!

I will stop now. This is making my brain hurt. But feel free to suggest more.


  1. marrije on #

    don’t use ‘he said/she said’ all the time. it’s boring and makes people think you don’t have a nice large vocabulary. one ‘said’ is OK, the rest of the dialogue attributions should be different verbs (all of them only used once).

  2. marrije on #

    oh, and only write what you know, i.e. about your own life and what you have actually experienced.

  3. innle on #

    Characters can never be too omniscient or overpowered. NEVER!

  4. Barry on #

    chapter breaks are for the weak and feeble-minded. if people can’t keep up, screw ’em!

  5. niki on #

    but I’ve lived my entire life by the “invent your own system of spelling” part – how ca it be wrong ????

  6. Celia on #

    Punctuation is for the weak.

  7. Sherwood Smith on #

    Criticism just means they’re jealous. let the critics natter of trivia—they’re simply too small-minded to comprehend your greatness.

  8. Mike on #

    barry is right, chapter breaks are for the weak, just like punctuation, but the story line has to be simple and clean

  9. holly on #

    If it really happened, then you don’t have to worry if it reads believably!

  10. Diana on #

    “you have to do it just like this or you won’t get published.”

  11. Barry on #

    “kill your darlings.”

    uh, they’re my darlings for a reason…

  12. parker on #

    “adverbs are your friend”

    “there’s no such thing as toom many ajectives”

  13. parker on #

    let me re-phrase:
    “there’s no such thing as too many adjectives”

    “never proof read your own writing” – or your blog comments…

  14. Justine on #

    That’s terrible bad advice, Parker. I am deeply against injunctions against parts of speech! Will people stop persecuting adjectives and adverbs! What next no articles? A ban on pronouns? Prepositions?! Gah!

  15. parker on #

    from the high, decorative window in my austere yet functional writer’s garret i carefully considered your prudent response to the brash bad advice i innocently offered—and while i was thinking deeply, i clearly observed the cloudless, azure sky delicately reflected in the tranquil, fresh-water pond far below—and soon i was so completely distracted from the earnest task i had recently begun that i had utterly lost the winding track . . .

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