In the writing world, writers are bombarded with all sorts of writing advice from an assortment of sources. Amateurs and famous authors alike always want to weigh in on the writing process itself. Unfortunately, some of them come up with terrible writing advice.
This doesn’t mean they are bad writers or authors themselves. But, just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean they are also qualified to teach or coach it. Just because an individual is an authority in the writing space, doesn’t mean every single word they say is necessarily true.
When it comes to writing, there are some general rules and guidelines that should be followed most of the time. In addition, however, you will still receive terrible writing advice even from well-respected authors or teachers.
It is important that you learn to differentiate the good advice from the bad.
It’s also important to remember that one piece of writing advice may be good for one person, and not so good for another. Everyone has a different style and process. Each genre also has its own set of stipulations.
Getting advice can help you earn how to write a novel, but only if its good advice.
Ernest Hemingway sums it up in just one sentence: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
The perfect writer doesn't exist. Everyone will always have areas for improvement. This means that no one is the ultimate authority, so always be on your guard when it comes to taking advice.
Elements of Terrible Writing Advice
When contemplating a piece of advice, there are some signs you can look for to determine if the advice is legitimate.
|Elements of Bad Advice|
|1. The Only Way||A piece of advice that insists that there's only one way to write or only one way is good enough.
This is terrible writing advice as there are many methods, styles, and ways of writing that are successful and effective.
|2. Market-Oriented||A piece of advice that is mostly market-oriented.
If the information is just about the sales and the financial value that will be gained instead of focusing on a writer's passion, this is terrible writing advice.
|3. Drop What Works||Advice that is telling you to drop what works for you.
Good writing advice will mostly boost your craft, not convince you to dump your most effective methods.
|4. No Imagination||A piece of terrible writing advice is one that cramps your imagination.
A good piece of writing advice will allow flexibility and creativity.
|5. Feeling Badly||If it’s making you feel bad about yourself as a writer, it’s probably not sound advice.|
Top 19 Pieces of Terrible Writing Advice
The above tips can help you spot a piece of terrible writing advice if it comes at you. There is a lot of bad advice out there. This list contains some of the most common, but it's not exhaustive.
Always be on your guard and don't ignore those gut feelings.
Usage of an Outline is Mandatory
Most can agree that an outline is generally a good idea, but it is not the be all and end all of a book.
Some people, however, will say that no book will ever succeed without an outline. This is terrible writing advice. If you don't want to use an outline and want to go straight to writing then go ahead - don't allow anyone to tell you otherwise.
Sometimes, this does work. It’s not the most common, but everyone works differently.
If you want to go without an outline, consider using a book writing template instead, such as this one:
Even a basic, generalized template can help you get your story going in the right direction.
Only Write What You Know
If everyone only wrote what they knew, creativity would be so limited. This can be a good rule to follow when writing nonfiction. If you’re trying to relay truth and fact, you do need to know what you’re talking about.
However, fiction is a whole other story. Successful fiction requires that writers write what they don’t already know. In genres like fantasy and science fiction, the story will be heavily imaginative. A fantasy that only contains what the writer knows would be boring.
So, if anyone ever gives you this piece of writing advice, don’t take it too seriously. Keep in mind what type of writer you are, and decide how closely you need to follow the advice.
Don’t Use Adverbs
This is a piece of terrible writing advice because every part of speech has its function and should be used when appropriate. Even adverbs have their place in the English language.
Many people aren’t a fan of them, but that doesn’t make them outlawed.
It’s true that they should not be overused¸ but telling someone to never use them is bad advice.
Much of the time an adverb is a lazy way to add emphasis to something else. But, sometimes they really do work. If an adverb sounds good and enhances your sentence in a way you like, don’t be afraid to use it.
Great Work Always Takes a lot of Time
Many will try to say that it will always take a lot of time to write a good book, and if it didn’t take you long, it won’t be good. This is absurd.
Some people take six years to write their best-selling masterpiece. Others do it in six weeks.
The amount of time it takes you to finish the book has nothing to do with its quality.
There are so many factors that come into play when you’re trying to write a book:
- Day jobs
- Children/family to take care of
- Social life
- Other commitments
- Other passions and dreams
And there are many more. Your lifestyle and available free time play a huge role in the amount of time it will take to write your book. Some people are fortunate and they don’t have a lot of time commitments on their hands.
These writers might get their book written, edited, and on their way to publishing in just a few weeks. This in no way means it’s not good! It just means they were able to spend a lot of consecutive time on it.
In the end, it’s the content of the book that matters and not the time spent.
Don’t use a Long Word When a Short one Will do
While you should never let a sentence become a true run-on, writing the occasional long one is not always bad. Constant short sentences can start to become confusing and irritating to the reader.
It is good to break up the staccato with something longer and more thought-provoking. The truth is that good writing contains a healthy balance of short, medium, and long sentences.
If someone has given you this terrible writing advice, it might be because they struggle to properly structure a longer sentence. Don’t let their weaknesses cloud your development as a writer.
Don’t Use a Semicolon
While some may be more common than others, every form of punctuation has its place. Having to use an awkward sounding conjunction is sometimes a poor alternative to a well-placed semicolon.
So, anytime you need to link parts of a sentence or put together two independent clauses that are related, go for your semicolon. Avoiding the semicolon completely is terrible writing advice.
Write How You Talk
This may be an easy way to go about things, but it’s not always going to get you on that best-sellers list.
Some people don't have a good sense of diction when they speak, so writing that same way is not ideal.
Your goal when learning how to write a book should be to create something professional and legible. You shouldn’t necessarily aim to mirror your way of speaking.
If you want to know how to become a better writer, don’t limit yourself.
Don’t Use Tools or Technology
There are some old-fashioned writers who neglect recent writing tools and advancements. They will tell you to avoid all the fancy tools and writing software that’s out there. They might argue it makes you lazy or teaches you bad writing.
This is not true whatsoever. While not every piece of book writing software is of good quality, there are so many that are fantastic. There is no doubt that they will help you learn how to write a novel, a book, a short story - whatever you want to do.
There are several types of writing software that you can get. Many writers use several at once.
- Word processors
- Editing tools
- Distraction busters
Don’t shy away from new technology just because they didn’t have it in the “old days.”
One perfect example is a new and innovative writing software called Squibler. This is a word processor that aims to help you write your book in the most efficient way possible - 30 days is the general goal.
Squibler helps you organize your thoughts, notes, and research. It facilitates the writing of your manuscript with easy to manage, drag and drop chapters and scenes. Lastly, it assists you with the publishing process when the time comes.
None of what Squibler or any other novel writing software does will hinder your ability as a writer. It only serves to enhance the experience and make things easier for you.
Editing is an unavoidable part of the writing process, and it is always a tedious one. There are several good writing tools out there that are designed to ease the stress and time consumption of editing.
There are many out there, but Grammarly is among the top rated, and easily the most popular.
Grammarly analyzes your work and points out any spelling or grammar errors as you go:
For more information on Grammarly and how it can help your writing, take a look at our detailed Grammarly Premium review.
Squibler and Grammarly are just scratching the surface. There are endless options when it comes to writing tools and apps that can be of excellent service to you.
Quantity Brings Quality
If anyone gives you this piece of terrible writing advice, ignore them.
Wordcounts do mean something:
- Most of the time, a writing contest will dictate how long the submissions should be.
- The length of your work will determine what it’s classified as - short story, novel, etc.
- A certain project in school or the workplace might require a certain amount of words.
The word count does a lot of things, but it does not determine the quality of your work. A good quality story of 2000 words is much more valuable than 10,000 words of poorly written prose.
Avoid Suspense and Provide Understanding
Ultimately you do need your readers to understand what is happening in your writing.
But, that doesn’t mean adding suspense in the middle is a bad thing! As long as they get their questions answered eventually, use suspense to your advantage.
Suspense is integral to several genres:
Even in something like romance or fantasy, suspense can create some much-needed conflict and tension. As long as your readers aren’t left in the dark forever, some temporary confusion can be effective. Learning suspense is crucial to learning how to write a novel.
Avoid Giving Character Descriptions
This terrible writing advice will hurt you as a writer because a story that lacks character development will fall flat. It’s true that excessive description does get exhausting. Paragraph after paragraph of straight description will get overwhelming for your reader.
But, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the description entirely. It’s all about finding that balance. There's absolutely nothing wrong with giving a good account of your characters. It will provide readers with a more vivid picture of your story.
This is not good advice at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with rewriting something to make it better.
The idea behind this advice is to keep the original idea intact. But, avoiding any rewrites is not the way to do this. If you need to refer back to original ideas or notes, find your research and brainstorming notes.
This is why it’s important to back up all your work and never delete anything. Even things that you think are terrible, keep them archived somewhere.
You might want to go back and get the original idea again. Just because something was written poorly, doesn’t mean the idea behind it was bad.
Rewrite to your heart’s content, but save all of the originals.
Write for Pleasure Only
This is terrible writing advice because you’re not going to love your work every second of every day. Regardless of what you do, there will always be bad days.
Many authors write for a living. This is fantastic and if they’re passionate writers, they will love their job - most of the time.
Even the most passionate and driven authors will have bad days. They will have days where they hate all their writing and question their choice to become a writer in the first place. But, this doesn’t mean you stop writing.
Especially when writing is your full-time job, you don't stop writing just because you’re having a bad day. Work through it, get something done.
Don’t Have Children as a Writer
There is no denying that children take up your time and energy. But, in no way, shape, or form do they have to derail your career as a writer. It will require some balancing and dedication, but you can be a writer and have children at the same time -no question.
In fact, many times, children can help you become a better writer. They give you valuable life experience and can offer endless inspiration. Base a character off your child, and you’ll never tire of writing about them!
Don't Use Complex Words
It is true that you want your work to be readable and understandable. But, that doesn’t mean you need to only use short, simple words. Sometimes that longer word sounds nice, or perhaps gets the point across better. Just because a simple word will also work, doesn’t mean you must use it.
Of course, you do need to take into consideration the age group you are writing for. A children’s book shouldn’t contain an advanced vocabulary. But, when writing for an older audience, don’t be afraid to use the English language to its full potential.
If you use a word and a reader doesn’t understand it, they will look it up. This will turn into a learning experience for them as they discover a new word.
Don’t Use a Dictionary
Hemingway believed a writer should read a dictionary just three times, internalize all of it, and then throw the dictionary away. Hemingway will always be a respected authority in the world of writing, but that doesn’t mean every single word out of his mouth was good.
This is actually terrible writing advice. Not everyone has the ability to memorize a dictionary. Don’t ever be ashamed or worried about using one if you must.
Developing a strong vocabulary is essential when learning how to write a book. Things will get boring if you're always using the same set of words and phrases. Expand your knowledge and keep things interesting - and don’t fear the dictionary as you do this.
Avoid the Foreign Phrase
There are some phrases in the English language that have foreign words in them. Some will say to avoid these, but that’s not always necessary.
Sometimes the fully English equivalent doesn’t make sense, and to say that it should still be used is terrible writing advice.
A Good Writer Needs Only to Write
Writing does not just consist of producing words. There are other ingredients required for one to be an impressive writer.
There are so many elements included in good writing:
- Planning and/or outlining
- Getting feedback and criticism
Of course, none of these extra pieces are necessary if all you want to do is write some stuff and leave it in your drawer forever.
Some people write purely for fun and personal enjoyment, and that’s fine. But, for anyone who wants to be even remotely successful, they need to participate in the entire picture.
Some of these things can be given to other people to do - specifically the editing and marketing. In fact, it is highly recommended that a writer hire professionals for these things.
The writer should still be involved, however. It’s still their work and they have the final say.
Don’t fall into the trap of neglecting these things. If someone tells you that all you need to do is write the words and success will come, they are giving you some terrible writing advice.
You Need to be Amazing Before Calling Yourself a Writer
Every writer needs to start at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Some people have fantastic natural talent, and that’s awesome. If this isn’t you though, don’t get discouraged and don’t give up.
No one is going to be a perfect writer right out of the gate, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Is writing for everyone? No. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be learned.
Take classes, do research, read articles, find a mentor. Put in the work, commit yourself to improve, and you’ll get there. In the meantime, absolutely call yourself a writer!
Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not a writer just because you haven’t been at it for long. Or because you don’t have anything published yet. If you write, you’re a writer.
Don’t Fall For These Pieces of Terrible Writing Advice
All of the points listed above are terrible writing advice in some way or another. Some of these things should be disregarded completely while others are good but only under certain circumstances.
It’s tempting to follow everything the experts say when learning how to write a book. But, this isn’t recommended. Not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart, and some just don’t give good advice.
Even talented and well-respected authors may not be able to take into consideration a writing style that is different than theirs. This can impede their ability to help you.
Pay attention to your instincts and do your research. If you question something, go with that. Don’t blindly follow the advice of anyone, even if they have littered the best-seller list for 20 years.