The Best Writing Advice to Ignore

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You probably have entire books of writing advice sitting on your shelf right now. At the very least, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that all the most important, sage advice from dreamers who came before is a simple Google search away. We have some bad news. A lot of that wonderful advice we all tell each other is less awesome than we realized.

Write What You Know

How much do you actually know about the world? You may know how to flag down a taxi, the shortest route to work, and exactly how much salt you like on your eggs in the morning, but no one wants to read an entire book about any of those things. They really don’t. You don’t either. Be honest.

Writers need to explore things, even if they write hyper-realistic literature about Everyday Joe. You need to stop, think, and ask lots of questions. If there’s more than one character in your story, then you’re already trying to understand how other people’s minds work, which is something humanity has struggled with since time immemorial. So, don’t worry about what you know. Chase the questions, dig for answers, and take a few risks. If you mess up, you can always fix the problems in revisions – that’s what they’re for, after all.

Adjectives and Adverbs are Little Devils

Most modern prose relies on minimalism. We don’t want excess words clouding the direct line of communication between the author and the reader. That’s all well and good, but English features adjectives and adverbs for a reason. You can overuse them, certainly, just as many authors in antiquity abused complex sentence structure to weave Franken-sentences that spanned a full page. A better lesson to teach young writers is the value of a broad vocabulary. You don’t need to say “sat slowly and kind of unhappily” when you could just write “sank.” But you need adjectives and adverbs to describe the blind, deadly spin of a bike tire as it bears down on a tree frog or ant. Words are tools, even adjectives and adverbs.

Write One Story at a Time

This is one of the most confusing and contradictory pieces of advice you will ever receive. Why? Well, it’s because many great writers throughout history are living proof that this is not a golden ticket to success, satisfaction, or even a finished story. Some authors took years to finish one project while others tumbled out over a month or two. Different stories work on different schedules. Maybe you’re just not ready to finish that particular piece yet, but it’s simmering on the backburner while something else begs to be written. The only worthwhile element of this particular piece of advice is the indirect push to finish what you started. And, yes, by all means, do finish the thing, but understand that you are a complex organism who can handle more than one task at a time.

What other advice do you think is bunk? What prized suggestions should you take with a grain of salt? There’s plenty to learn from other writers, but remember: no single writer knows everything, and storytellers have to lie to themselves, too.

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