Advice on Bad Writing Advice

Advice on Bad Writing Advice

When I’m on Tumblr as an author and editor, I feel like I have a responsibility to teen writers–or new writers–to steer them in the right direction when it comes to writing advice, especially to warn them away from bad writing advice. Let’s face it, bad writing advice exists, and it’s not subjective on whether or not it’s bad. It IS just bad.

I interceded a post on Tumblr that, yes, was from one of my followers that does writing advice. The post basically presented a list of words to use other than said. You know those lists I’m talking about, the ones with hundreds of words that you can use, some of them some nice gems you can tuck away and others that are outright ridiculous like ‘oogle.’ How do you ‘oogle’ your words? In any case, the introduction began by saying that said essentially says nothing, that it doesn’t state the tone of your character, that you shouldn’t use it too often because there are better words. That was alarming and raised red flags for me. So I felt it was my responsibility to step in, re-blog it, and set my followers straight.

Said isn’t meant to convey tone. It is not a useless word but a tag that is almost nonexistent for readers because they are so used to seeing it more than any other dialogue tag. Conveying tone is what dialogue is for. Said denotes who is speaking, when no other word is necessary to use but ‘said,’ especially if the dialogue can carry itself, or there is an action tag in front that can set up the tone of how the dialogue will sound. But, really, the tone can be set up before a conversation by creating a tense situation so that way when you go into reading the dialogue, you can already imagine the tone of the speakers. Or a relaxed situation. Any kind of situation can set up the tone of the dialogue without tags being used.

The writer of the post never mentioned to use those words sparingly. The writer simply said that ‘said’ is meaningless because it doesn’t put emotion into your character’s dialogue. That’s wrong. There is no subjectiveness to how wrong that statement is. Again, setting up a scene can help dialogue convey tone so the dialogue can carry itself. Or an action tag can set up the tone. When someone says, ‘Hey, use these words instead because said is meaningless,’ that is a thing to be wary about. Many experts in the publishing industry will tell you to treat those words like gems. Using them too much will KILL your dialogue. That is a FACT based on readers’ experiences. Readers WILL become annoyed by an overuse of a list like that. Use sparingly. Spa-ring-ly.

So what was the point of my little story? My follower threw up a recent update that said all writing advice is subjective and is not meant to be taken to heart. That I agree with. What I don’t agree with is this implication that there is no bad writing advice. There is. I’m going to give you a few pointers on what advice to avoid, advice that is popular. Now I do appreciate all of my followers. I appreciate even more the followers that are about creating content to help others. But, again, sometimes I feel it’s my responsibility to intercede, especially since most of my followers are young writers. It alarmed me that the post had over 1,000 notes, so I felt like I HAD to step in. Doing so didn’t cause any conflict, although the follower was upset; however, I didn’t read the follower’s irate words. I glanced at it, and I think there may have been some name calling involved.  

  • Avoid writing advice like the example I presented above. The best published books, the ones that win awards because of their writing, know how to create effective dialogue. If you look at the dialogue, you’ll notice that the dialogue often carries itself, that the dialogue probably lacks tags more than it has them. It isn’t even necessarily award-winning books, either, but popular books, too, where the author knows how to create dialogue without treating such a list as a bible.
  • Write like you talk. This seems self-explanatory. We tend to use a lot of filler words in our speech, fillers that are jarring to readers.
  • Write for yourself. Write for yourself first, THEN revise for your readers.
  • Write what you know. Explanatory. Just about every published book began with a lack of knowledge, which is why the writer does research.
  • Write everyday! Not even I do this–or can do this. I have a life outside of my writing career, and I NEED that life. I don’t want to burn out. It’s great if you can write everyday, but don’t extend this tidbit to all writers.
  • Advice that only insists there is one correct way to write. This actually defeats the purpose of the word ‘advice,’ which denotes that it is merely advice, something to not take as law. Plus, we all know there is no one way to write.
  • If you write several books and it still takes you a while to write a book, you’re doing something wrong. Each book is different from the last. You might be better at drafting, but some books are harder to write than others. It takes me a month or two to draft a book but pretty much an entire year to make that book submission ready. Maybe it’ll take less now, but I’m not pressuring myself to finish a book ASAP. I’m not going to sacrifice quality for quantity.

There is so much more bad writing advice out there. You can even look it up in Google, but I wanted to present you with advice that raises obvious red flags. Good writing advice is subjective. When I do writing advice on Tumblr, I try to present more than one way to do it to give my aspiring writers choices.