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15 Examples of Terrible Writing Advice — and What to Do Instead
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Haley Baird Riemer
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If you've ever gotten advice, you've probably noticed that it often varies widely in quality and perspective. You can get contradictory advice from two different people. That's just the nature of opinions and experience — everyone has something different to say. Writing is one profession that, like most creative professions, doesn't have a clear blueprint for success. As a result, you get a lot of varied advice from people who have had experiences in the industry, some of which will work for you and some that won't.  

Sometimes, it's difficult to tell the good advice from the bad. The Youtube Channel "Terrible Writing Advice" pokes fun at the deluge of advice writers often get, creating satire out of what you shouldn't do as a writer and offering alternative, better tips. The content on the channel demonstrates how prevalent bad advice can be and how to identify and avoid it. 

Terrible Writing Advice

Dedicated to chronicling — and satirizing — the scores of terrible writing advice writers receive every day, the Youtube channel Terrible Writing Advice posts animated videos making fun of horrible writing tips. Created by novelist J.P. Beaubien, the channel offers bits of common terrible writing advice sarcastically, following up with good advice (that you should NOT do and steer away from at all costs, of course). The comical tone and aesthetic of the videos has garnered the channel a lot of traction. Most of the advice is applicable to fiction writing and narratives, but some applies to all forms of writing, and no matter what type of writer you are, you can learn something useful.

15 Examples of terrible writing advice.

Here are some examples of terrible writing advice, some from Beaubien's channel and others from elsewhere, that will hopefully help your writing and your ability to tell the good advice out there from the bad. 

1. Distraction will help your writer's block.

Writer's block happens to all of us, and sometimes it can feel like an impossible pit to claw yourself out of. A common tactic for trying to get out of writer's block and kickstart motivation is distraction. It's tempting to take a break from writing and collect your thoughts, take your mind off things or watch TV or movies for creative inspiration. But beware of these distractions — they will only hurt you and cause you to procrastinate. 

What to do instead:

Keep at it. Force yourself to write through your lack of inspiration and ideas. Pick a writing exercise and follow it. Just put pen to paper or fingers to keys, and get words down. Sometimes, starting is the hardest part. 

2. You can't have too much self-promotion.

As a writer, part of your job is to get your content out there, which means you have to do some level of marketing and self-promotion. Some people will tell you to concentrate all of your energy on advertising your book or writing, and you often see the results of this advice in a deluge of promotional content by authors with new works out that gets on people's nerves more than it makes them want to buy your book. 

What to do instead:

Strategize. Be picky about how and where you promote. Choose audiences that are actually going to be interested in buying your book or services, and match your marketing materials to the tone of your content. People want to see clever marketing that doesn't feel invasive or cumbersome. Make your promotion as organic as possible — that's how it will bring you the best results. 

3. All good work takes time.

We have a tendency to assume that the time spent on a project and the quality of that project are directly correlated. This isn't necessarily the case. Some great works are created over a number of years; others are created in a few hours. The time a project takes to develop does not always indicate its worth. 

What to do instead:

Judge your work less on the time it took you to create it and more on the intention behind it, how much work you've put into it and how much you've edited and reread it. These are more reliable measures to ensure you're proud of your work. You may have a piece that you technically wrote in a few hours, but upon revisiting it, you found it only needed minor edits and was actually fine without having to spend much more time on it. 

4. Your first work is your best work.

While it doesn't matter how long you spend on your work, your first draft will not always be your best. In fact, it rarely will. Maybe you tend to think this about your own writing, and you don't like to revisit your work because you want to preserve the integrity it had when you first created it. While maintaining the intention of a piece isn't a bad thing, the idea that the work you produce first will always be the purest and therefore best is not true.

What to do instead:

Keep your writing open to improvement and suggestion. Don't shy away from editing and revising your work. You may learn something new about a piece or change your mind about the direction of it, and that's okay. It's all part of the writing process, and you shouldn't feel any pressure to cling to the first words you put on the page. 

5. You have to be published or successful to call yourself a writer. 

Writing is a profession that is much more interpretable than a 9-to-5 position with a clear title and an assigned supervisor. Many writers aren't "employed" before they start writing. You get hired for being a writer already, and typically, you do the work before someone pays you to do it. It can be difficult, then, to own the title of "writer" when there's a rather large spectrum of people who consider themselves writers and levels of employment and success. You don't have to be published or considered successful to call yourself a writer, though.

What to do instead:

Call yourself a writer when you feel like you are one — when you're dedicating portions of your day to writing as though it was your job. Being a writer can mean different things to different people, and your process won't be the same as someone else's. But if you write or aspire to write and writing makes you happy and motivated and excited about the world, you're a writer.

6. You don't need to revise your work. 

Again, if you've ever been told that your first draft is always your best or that revising doesn't help your writing, you may want to rethink that perspective. Editing is the key to good writing, and while there is definitely such a thing as too much revision, you need some level of editing and reflection to get your work to level you want it to be at.

What to do instead:

Revise, revise, revise. Editing gives you an opportunity to come back to your work with fresh eyes and a different perspective than you had when you were writing it. You can definitely get too close to a piece of writing, and you might not see changes that need to be made until coming back to it. That's why editing is your friend. Don't overdo it; perfection is unattainable, so strive for improvement instead.

7. You can't plan too much.

There's no such thing as too much planning, right? Think again. If you're the type to spend more time planning and outlining than you do writing and creating, you may have a problem. There is such a thing as too much planning. At a certain point, planning can become a form of procrastination, and you can end up putting so much effort into the plan for a story that you aren't open to changing it as you write and rediscover things. If you're too set on your outline and the way you thought things would go, you can keep your creative brain from being in the moment and producing its best work. 

What to do instead:

In one video on Terrible Writing Advice, the narrator outlines two types of writers: the ones who plan every single moment of a story and those who plan virtually nothing, flying by the seat of their pants the whole way. Planning extensively either works or doesn't work for you as a writer, and you'll find out what your preferred path is. But neither extreme is wholly successful; you need some level of planning to set your direction and some element of flying by to keep things creative, fresh and exciting. Terrible Writing Advice cautions against "slideshow scenes" — plots that feel overly neat and curated because they've been planned so much that there's no anticipation or excitement in the story. 

8. The ending of a story is not as important as the rest of it.

You may hear that, if you have a solid story, how you end it won't make or break it. After all, if you've spent chapters on chapters or an entire essay building a well-crafted story, why should the ending or conclusion matter as much as the entire piece?

What to do instead:

The fact is, endings matter a lot. Terrible Writing Advice warns against wrapping up a story hastily or panicking when you get to the end of a book and choosing an ending that doesn't make sense for your characters. Endings can be a lot of pressure; but if you spend as much time and energy on your ending as you did developing your plot and characters, you have a better chance of ending your piece in a way that doesn't disappoint.

9. The opening of a story isn't important.

The beginning of your piece is merely a fraction of the entire story. It only serves to begin the argument or plot you're about to lay out, so it doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it's there and it makes sense for the story — right? Not quite. 

What to do instead:

The introductory paragraph or opening line of your story can be the deciding factor in a reader's decision to keep reading. There's a reason writing teachers call this part "the hook" – its purpose is to hook your reader in and make them want to keep reading. It needs to immediately capture people's attention and leave them wanting to learn more. 

10. Don't worry about your reader's attention span.

Yes, it's true — our attention spans are changing. With social media and an influx of content on the internet, we tend to skim more to figure out if we like something and if it's worth paying attention to. As a writer, you can't ignore this evolution in the way audiences consume media. While you may want to write for the readers of the past, if you're writing for a more contemporary audience, you have to adjust to that. 

What to do instead: 

Look at the content that's performing well online. It's the stuff that has intriguing introductions and easily shareable clips that can be tweeted out with an article or story. Keep this in mind when you're writing. Think about what first catches your interest in a story and what keeps you hooked.

11. Write what you know.

This is something every writer has probably heard before. Write what you know — stick to topics and experiences you are well-versed in. There's a pressure not to write about topics that are too "out there" or that deviate too far from your lived experience. And while writing that's grounded in first-hand knowledge and experience often does produce strong and interesting stories, it doesn't have to limit you entirely. Writing what you know can be your starting point from which to branch out as you please. 

What to do instead:

Yes, start with what you know. Ground your writing in real emotions and experiences, but don't limit your material to things you have long-term experience with. Seek out knowledge about something you want to write about if you don't have it yet. Don't be afraid to take risks and write something weird or outlandish that isn't really close to your life at all. You should, however, be careful when it comes to experiences related to identities that you don't have, as your perspective could be coming from a place of privilege or sensationalism. You don't want to bring a problematic gaze to a story that tells the experience of another group of people. When it comes to marginalized identities or other cultures, leave those stories to be told by the people who have lived them.

12. Adjectives and adverbs are not your friends.

Editors will often cut adjectives and adverbs that are deemed extraneous. English teachers often instill the belief that unnecessary adjectives and adverbs add "fluff" to your writing that take away from its value. The standard rule is: if you can get rid of it, you should. But should you always pare down your writing to the absolutely necessary words, no matter the cost? Not necessarily.

What to do instead:

At a certain point, you find your voice as a writer, and (depending on who you're writing for) that becomes more important than the golden rules of high school English. For example, Faulkner's writing consists of long, run-on sentences that would have earned us all less-than-satisfactory grades in an English paper. However, when Faulkner does it, it's art. If an adverb or adjective adds to the intention of the sentence as you saw it or the rhythm of the story, keep it. It's okay to make stylistic choices that not everyone is going to agree with. 

13. Don't listen to criticism.

If you put content out into the world, chances are people are going to have opinions about it. Writing is often subject to comments and criticism from professional critics, as well as anyone with a computer or phone and access to the internet. Not all feedback comes from an informed, well-meaning place, and as a result you may be on the receiving end of some harsh criticism you don't agree with, and it may even be unfounded. But while cruising the comments section of a book or article you've written is certainly ill-advised, you should not block out all incoming criticism. Some of it can be useful to you and help you improve as a writer.

What to do instead:

Listen, process and consider thoughtful criticism you receive. Feedback from people outside your own head can be incredibly valuable. Sometimes, you can get wrapped up in your own mind that you don't consider alternative perspectives on your work. Look at receiving criticism as an opportunity to improve as a writer. Don't debate criticism you get. Take it, see if you can understand where it's coming from and adjust your writing accordingly if necessary. 

14. When giving criticism to others, make it personal.

Writing,  like any creative pursuit, can become pretty competitive. When given the chance to give feedback or criticism to another writer, you may find you have an impulse to make that feedback personal, snarky or even mean-spirited. If you believe all writers are your direct competition and you'll never succeed if you don't put others down, then this career is not going to be a fruitful or happy one. 

What to do instead:

Just like receiving feedback, giving feedback is an opportunity. You have the chance to improve your fellow writers' work and build professional connections. You also have the opportunity to read works-in-progress by other writers, which is a great way to learn more about others' writing process and maybe apply things you learn to your own. Don't feel the pressure to go easy on people with your criticism; make it honest, but don't make it personal. Focus the critique on the work and elements of the writing, not the person who wrote it.

15. You don't need to spend time on characterization.

If you have a good idea for a story and you're a talented world-builder that can spin an entire engaging fantasy universe within the pages of a book, that's great! But the story itself is not going to be the only aspect that makes your book or story engaging. If you don't also build full, developed characters, your story will have nothing to carry it forward.

What to do instead:

Build fully fleshed-out characters to live within your world. Think about what makes a whole person: strengths, weaknesses, motivation, likes and dislikes, personality traits and so on. Rather than writing flat, uni-faceted characters and relying on other elements in your writing to carry them, make sure your characters are full people. This gives your readers someone to relate to. 

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