Whats the best, and worst writing advice you've ever read/seen/heard of, or been given?

DAgent

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This could be from pros both big names and whose names we don't know of, school teachers whose lessons you can still remember, an editor or agent or just someone who did you a favour and read some of your work.

For me, one of the best pieces of advice I've found online was from Neil Gaiman. He's advice was to treat it like building a dry stone wall, you put one stone down, then another and another and so on until it's done.
There's been times I've found myself too distracted by anything else around me to write, and then I've forced myself to sit and keep writing and the next thing I know I have five pages looking back on me. Maybe not in the best condition spelling and grammar wise, but I can easily edit later.

One of the worst pieces of advice was from Stephen King. He said he doesn't keep notes of his ideas because he can always remember the good ideas, or the good ideas will always come back to you. This is not good advice for someone like myself who has a terrible memory, not so bad that I can't recall where I parked my car in an otherwise empty car park, but I can easily think up an idea, then forget it five minutes later if I've not made a note of it.
And yes sometimes it can come back if I really fight to do so, but that takes time and exhausts me. I've got the Dictaphone app on my phone and it's files are full of me working out ideas out loud, whether it's characters traits and motivation, plot ideas or what the town the characters are visiting will look like.

One of my school teachers once told the entire class to always make sure you correct any spelling or grammar errors before you move on to do any more writing on the PC. This was in the days of the 386's and windows 3.11 and yes, the software did have spellcheckers, but I found two things happened if we actually followed this advice.
For me it ruined the flow of writing, I wasn't putting down the ideas in my head as quickly as I wanted to when I was at my most creative and felt like I was losing something doing this.
Secondly, when I saw my friends following this advice and they had typed a line with just one typo, they would delete it all and re-write it just the same as before minus the typo, which just seemed odd.
 

Betok_Haney

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Horrible example: In middle-school English class, our teacher decided to choose examples from a recent creative writing assignment to share with the class. She showed each example on a screen. One example was chosen as an example of good writing, one bad. The examples had our names on it, and she chose mine as the "bad" example, and proceeded to rip it apart. She was mean about it, not constructive. I was ashamed. My friend (who's work was chosen as the "good" example) tried to comfort me at the end of class and I shrugged it off as no big deal, but 30 years later I still think of that moment. It dampened my desire to explore creative writing for a long time.
 

sule

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Horrible example: In middle-school English class, our teacher decided to choose examples from a recent creative writing assignment to share with the class. She showed each example on a screen. One example was chosen as an example of good writing, one bad. The examples had our names on it, and she chose mine as the "bad" example, and proceeded to rip it apart. She was mean about it, not constructive. I was ashamed. My friend (who's work was chosen as the "good" example) tried to comfort me at the end of class and I shrugged it off as no big deal, but 30 years later I still think of that moment. It dampened my desire to explore creative writing for a long time.
That's a straight-up awful thing to do, especially since your teacher didn't even bother to give your writing a shred of anonymity by omitting your name. But even if she had left your name off, it still would have been a terrible thing to do in front of the entire class. My mother had a similar experience in college: one of her narrative essays was ripped into by a student teacher (not even the actual professor) in front of the class. Even though the teacher never told class who wrote it, my mother knew and it made her feel awful for a long, long time.

As far as good/bad advice, I think most of the time it depends on who you are. What is good advice for some can be terrible advice for others. For my part, I've learned to interrogate all those cute little phrases like "Write what you know," or "Kill your darlings," or "Show, don't tell,"* that seem pithy and are usually handed down to all the young writers with the sense of some great wisdom coming from on high. I'm not saying that they are bad advice, only that the way they're often treated by some of the writing community turns them into inflexible maxims that generally don't help the novice writer improve in their craft--and that's really the only thing I look for in advice anymore: "Is this something I can use to get better at writing/storytelling?"

*The most recent episode of Writing Excuses (16.33 "Tell, Don't Show") does a great job of explicating the idea of "show, don't tell" in writing and why it isn't the big deal that it seems to be.
 

sknox

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Both the best and the worst advice for me comes from Ernest Hemingway, in a little ditty he titled Monologue to the Maestro. Written in 1935 to Esquire Magazine, for which I guess he was a correspondent at the time. They had those back then. Correspondents. Here's a link to it
https://dianedrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hemingway-Monologue-to-the-Maestro1.pdf

The gist of it is this: if you can be deterred from writing, you should be.

He rambles (which is funny, given his rep) and he has a good many zingers in there, and the prose is worth reading for that alone, but it's also worth considering his message. As to why it is both good and bad advice is a question left as an exercise for the reader.
 

BAYLOR

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Horrible example: In middle-school English class, our teacher decided to choose examples from a recent creative writing assignment to share with the class. She showed each example on a screen. One example was chosen as an example of good writing, one bad. The examples had our names on it, and she chose mine as the "bad" example, and proceeded to rip it apart. She was mean about it, not constructive. I was ashamed. My friend (who's work was chosen as the "good" example) tried to comfort me at the end of class and I shrugged it off as no big deal, but 30 years later I still think of that moment. It dampened my desire to explore creative writing for a long time.

What awful thing to do. Any teacher that does that has no business being a teacher .:mad:
 

Phyrebrat

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My bugbear is when people try to help you by rewriting sections of your work in a crit. It’s redundant (not to mention high-handed) unless the critter is going to then write your whole story.

I think one of the most crucial things to author success is voice. Originality and style are our only USP so to have someone come in and say ‘I’d do something like this…’ isn’t helpful. Even from your favourite author it’d be unhelpful.

Best advice? Put away a finished manuscript for at least 3 months before going back to edit. So much easier to do with such distance. And the things you thought might’ve been your darlings are a lot easier to kill.
 

Betok_Haney

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Both the best and the worst advice for me comes from Ernest Hemingway, in a little ditty he titled Monologue to the Maestro. Written in 1935 to Esquire Magazine, for which I guess he was a correspondent at the time. They had those back then. Correspondents. Here's a link to it
https://dianedrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hemingway-Monologue-to-the-Maestro1.pdf

The gist of it is this: if you can be deterred from writing, you should be.

He rambles (which is funny, given his rep) and he has a good many zingers in there, and the prose is worth reading for that alone, but it's also worth considering his message. As to why it is both good and bad advice is a question left as an exercise for the reader.
That was a fantastic read, thanks for posting this sknox!
 

Juliana

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The most recent episode of Writing Excuses (16.33 "Tell, Don't Show") does a great job of explicating the idea of "show, don't tell" in writing and why it isn't the big deal that it seems to be.

"Show not tell" is a good principle, but occasionally a quick tell is better than a long show.
I'm not fond of 'show, don't tell'; I think there's a place for both showing AND telling, depending on pacing and place in story.

One of my favorite bits of advice is Susan Dennard's magical cookies. To quote from her newsletter:
The magical cookies or cookie scenes are what I call those sparks in a story that makes you WANT to write. It’s the romantic tension you love and just can’t wait to reach. It’s the high-action fight you’re itching to write or the awesome sneakiness of your villain. It is basically the reason you wanted to write THIS book at THIS moment.
She goes on to say that every scene should be a cookie scene; if it doesn't make you happy/excited/etc to write, it has no place in the story.
 

Astro Pen

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Worst: "Show don't tell." Writing simply isn't an either / or.
2nd worst: "Writing is rewriting."


Best: Gaiman "Finish things"
 

Aurora Nights

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That I'm a psychopath, - from George R R Martin. I take that as high praise, though I'm a little more than a psy
Horrible example: In middle-school English class, our teacher decided to choose examples from a recent creative writing assignment to share with the class. She showed each example on a screen. One example was chosen as an example of good writing, one bad. The examples had our names on it, and she chose mine as the "bad" example, and proceeded to rip it apart. She was mean about it, not constructive. I was ashamed. My friend (who's work was chosen as the "good" example) tried to comfort me at the end of class and I shrugged it off as no big deal, but 30 years later I still think of that moment. It dampened my desire to explore creative writing for a long time.
She might have seen you as someone with true potentional, I'd take it as praise that she was trying to put you off.

I've been called a hack by a lecturer, we had a 'discussion' and it turned out she had been called a hack herself at one point, and she became a translator of some famous person's work. Nothing wrong with translating, but that lecturer had serious issues.
 

Aurora Nights

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One of the worst pieces of advice was from Stephen King. He said he doesn't keep notes of his ideas because he can always remember the good ideas, or the good ideas will always come back to you. This is not good advice for someone like myself who has a terrible memory...
Not sure how King constructs his writing? Sounds like a gardener.
He's missing out not noting down ideas etc, all good ideas don't come back, no way.
He probably doesn't want to be distracted from what he's writing at that moment. That if he wrote down the new idea his focus would go to that. Well let that be the case, and then move back to what you were originally writing. I'm not missing out on a good idea on the hope it will come back.
I can remember when I started writing down my ideas etc, future work are building themselves as I do so.
 

Wayne Mack

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For me, the worst advice was to sit down and force yourself to write everyday. I have that I tend to be a bursty writer -- I can days or a week without writing anything and then know exactly what I want to say and pound out the next couple of chapters. Forcing myself to write just makes something I like to do into drudgery.
 

Steve Harrison

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The best advice I got was to consider ALL writing advice as opinion, and useless unless I have personally tested it and found it to be of benefit.

Of course, all of that is my opinion, but I am happy to say it's allowed me to ditch a huge amount of nonsense disguised as 'accepted wisdom.'
 

The Big Peat

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What Steve said.

The closest thing to a gospel piece of writing advice is that if you want something good to come from it, you've got to stick at it. I think Teresa put it here a while back as "Most Writers Quit Too Early". Slightly behind it is you've got to be able to learn and adjust.

Worst...

Show, Don't Tell - I think this tweet breaks it down well, but the tl;dr is you can't follow that advice all the time.

 

JS Wiig

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He's missing out not noting down ideas etc…
Yes I’m sure Stephen King is “missing out” in his writing…

Best advice: just write. Can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

Worst advice: stick with a project until it’s finished. Sometimes something just doesn’t work and some folks will spend years trying to force a story idea, when they should just move on to something else.
 

DAgent

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Horrible example: In middle-school English class, our teacher decided to choose examples from a recent creative writing assignment to share with the class. She showed each example on a screen. One example was chosen as an example of good writing, one bad. The examples had our names on it, and she chose mine as the "bad" example, and proceeded to rip it apart. She was mean about it, not constructive. I was ashamed. My friend (who's work was chosen as the "good" example) tried to comfort me at the end of class and I shrugged it off as no big deal, but 30 years later I still think of that moment. It dampened my desire to explore creative writing for a long time.
Jesus, I've never had a teacher do that to anyone, I think the closest I ever came to that was some art teachers in high school who just didn't seem to care at all about anyone's artwork and actively went out of their way to discourage anyone pursing a career in art.
I have however met people on project work I've been involved in at work who follow your English teachers lead when it came to anyone else's attempts to contribute. One persons attitude was so bad we had a couple of people leave the project.
 

JunkMonkey

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Slightly bending the rules here in that these bits of good advice are related to drawing - specifically drawing comics, and since a picture is worth a thousand words and I do the words and art for my strips the writing and the drawing are part of the same continuum and...
(Inner voice: "you can stop now, they've got it!")

Wally Woods famous dictum: "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up."

And Larry Hama's: "If you know what it's called and you have an internet connection there's no excuse for drawing it wrong."
 

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