Stupid Writing Advice

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There are a few rules on this list to the right that have me seething out of my writerly mind. Some of them are good, but some of them are outright ridiculous, whether or not you have the experience to know when to break them. I’m going to pick at the ones from this list that I find extremely stupid.

1. Write what you know.

I hate this one because it’s impossible to write what you know. And really, I should only break this rule in an emergency? You’re not going to know every facet of your book, hence why many a published book was written with research in mind. If you write what you know, your story is likely to not be that interesting. I had no idea about the workings of a convent when I wrote When Stars Die. I did research on the Salem Witch Trials. The point is, I had to do research, and you likely will too. I suppose if you took this rule literally, write what you know includes writing what you know from research, but in this list, this list that says to only break these rules in emergencies, write what you know likely doesn’t include the research aspect.

2. Kids and animals can’t die.

Just what? I get killing off a kid or an animal can be a cheap way to arouse sympathy, but this also suggests that the lives of animals and kids are too valuable, and that the lives of adults don’t hold enough value, so it’s okay to kill off adults, but, by god, you kill off a kid or animal and you’re stepping on sacred ground. I’ll kill off kids or animals if I want to, especially if it’s relevant to my plot. They’re not immune to death.

3. No multiple points of view.

How are you going to learn to use multiple points of view unless you start writing from multiple points of view? If you find it’s pointless later, that’s why you can edit it out. But you’re never going to understand how to use them unless you actually try to write with them. So break this rule. Kill it, if you’re interested in experimenting with multiple POVs. Shannon’s Minutes Before Sunset uses two POVs, and I think she does a marvelous job, and it’s only her second book. I can tell she didn’t care about this “rule.”

4. Happy endings are required for commercial fiction.

No they’re not. Have you been reading commercial fiction lately? A lot of the endings are bittersweet. I don’t consider bittersweet endings happy endings because the MC is often left with some sort of trauma that is going to have to be sorted out. And trauma is painful. It’s not happy.The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray has a bittersweet ending. Mockingjay has a bittersweet ending. I don’t know what commercial books you’ve been reading lately, but I haven’t been reading any with happy endings.

Write whatever ending you want to write. Even if you’re writing commercial fiction. The only books that require happy endings are Harlequin romance novels.

5. If you want to sell, write to current trends.

Just what? Okay, When Stars Die is a paranormal romance, but I didn’t do it to jump on the paranormal bandwagon. It’s dangerous to force yourself to write to current trends because what you write can turn to crap. Also, I’ve seen plenty of books selling that aren’t along current trends. Write whatever the heck you want. Moving on.

6. Write 1000 words a day.

No. Try to write every day, however many words you can get in. Don’t tell me what to do, especially because you don’t know my life.

End rant.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

20 thoughts on “Stupid Writing Advice

  1. Wow. Is that a serious list or satire? Because those rules that you pointed out are full on ridiculous. If children and animals are off-limits even for sympathy then there are going to be a lot of dead grandmothers in literature.

  2. Yeah some of these are really good (Hemingway’s advice at the end is a really good idea), but others… yesh. I think the one troubling thing about lists of writing advice like this is it tries to fit all of the types of writing into the world into one narrow definition. Yes, there are some fantastic books that follow these rules but there are some books that break them and are better reads for them. For example, the don’t start with dialogue rule is broken soundly by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, arguably one of the greatest works of sci-fi of all time.

  3. Are we sure this isn’t a list made specifically to be scoffed at? Because it sure reads like one. I can see telling new writers to avoid a lot of this stuff if they can’t explain why they’re using it (like starting with the weather. It can be done well, but if it’s done without specific purpose, it falls flat and loses reader interest). They all sound to me like rules that were made to be broken, as long as you understand why you’re breaking them.

    Sincerely,
    A writer of multiple POV, non-trendy novels in which animals die (and maybe children in the future), a sequel starts with dialogue, and endings aren’t always happy. 😉

    1. This one’s just as chilling as the last one I read, so I love this one. It’s really depressing too, but, hey, any writer that can invoke emotion is a good one in my book. Stellar!

      1. Thanks. The story is very personal to me. I may blog about it’s origin/meaning later.

  4. I want this list to be a farce, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. No kids/animals dying… really… what?!

    They all drive me crazy, but of the ones you didn’t mention, this one: “Stop for the day when you know what you’re going to write next.” seems the most absurd. Maybe it’s just me, but I have to write while the idea is fresh, or the thoughts go stale. I over think everything, and I do it quickly, so I can’t afford to stop if I know what I’m doing next. Just… just… ugh! What on earth?

    Sorry, ending rant. Thank you for this post – I’ve seen that little list before, and it was always mildly depressing to see how many people praised it. It’s so good to know that someone besides myself found it so ridiculous! 🙂

  5. So, have I made a huge boo-boo by telling agents in my submission e-mail that my first novel is written from multiple points of view? Time will tell! Oh, and they always misquote the Elmore Leonard ‘don’t start with the weather’ advice – he explains in which cases it’s okay, eg it impinges on the character in the opening scene. And kids and animals can’t die – enough. I can’t go on …

    1. Multiple POVs isn’t the problem (just look at how GRR Martin did Game of Thrones). The problem comes if you shift POVs in the same scene, in other words, use third person omniscient POV. It’s generally considered the mark of an amateur. Use as many POVs as you like, as long as you keep the voices distinct and have a clear break between each shift so it doesn’t confuse the reader.

      1. I think the safest way to use multiple POVs is just to give each character his/her own chapter. At least, that is how I would do it just to keep everything organized. I have read books where POVs are switched with scene breaks, but it’s sometimes so abrupt.

      2. There’s also the danger to irritate the reader if you do it too rapidly. They just get used to the character’s voice, then they have to switch to another.

  6. Ender’s Game immediatly came to mind when I saw that bit about never starting with dialogue. Incidentally, several kids end up dying in that book, too. It’s a great book, by the way; I’d reccomend it if you’ve never read it.

    Like others have said, I’m wondering if this list is some sort of parody. A few of those pieces of advice made sense, but most of them…no.

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