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

elle telle

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The best piece of advice I've gotten was very specific to me, but it completely changed that game. Basically a friend of mine (who isn't a writer) said to me: "You're always saying you're too exhausted after work to write much and that you're really energetic and productive in the mornings. Why don't you write then?"

This may seem incredibly obvious but I had just never considered it! I changed my sleep schedule around so I'm up for a few hours before I have to go to work and now I write every day. This obviously isn't widely applicable advice as not everyone would do well getting up early to write, but I think there's something there about being conscious of the ways your environment is helping or hindering you and then trying to change it.

I'm appreciating all the advice being shared here! (Well, the good advice... I'm pretty horrified by some of the bad advice, especially that teacher! Good god.)
 

Ray Zdybrow

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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

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.
Makes you wonder why they decided to be a teacher. Unfortunately there still seem to be some of these weirdos around
 

Harpo

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I like what Natalie Goldberg said in “Writing Down The Bones”. Always keeping a notebook just for writing any old thing. At that time she had a pile of such notebooks five feet high, after about a decade. She said to sit down with the least expectation of yourself and say “ I am free to write the worst junk in the world”.

I use that phrase a lot, and my 2019 book of experimental music scores is called “I Am Free To Compose The Worst Junk In The World”.
 

sknox

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>sit down with the least expectation of yourself and say “ I am free to write the worst junk in the world”.

Or, the phrase I like using: anything worth doing is worth doing badly. <g>
 

Stephen Palmer

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Can't remember which author said this (possibly Gene Wolfe) but: "If you're stuck, don't think about words - imagine it better."
 

reiver33

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For me, the combination of best and worst came from John Jarnold, some years ago. Due to an unexpected windfall I could afford to have my only full-length work edited by him. He didn't provide a line edit as I 'had the basics pretty much down pat', but pointed out the usual pitfalls of new authors; too many ideas leading to extraneous sub-plots, clever rather than realistic dialogue exchanges, etc. - all of which I've (hopefully) taken on-board.

But...

He also included an overview of the publishing environment and its brutal realities - presumably as a 'forewarned is forearmed' approach to submission/rejection. However, in passing he mentioned it had taken Iain (M) Banks sixteen years to get his first novel published, and that just killed it for me. I was in my early 50s then, and simply didn't have the time, energy or inclination to join the churn cycle. Hence I don't really 'market' my work, merely release it via those outlets that will have me, and that's enough.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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@reiver33

That explains a lot. It's the 33 that had me fooled.

Although I still think the the world should see your work and given the apparent lack of detailed criticism by JJ, maybe it wouldn't be as bad as he implied in your case.
 

sknox

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>I was in my early 50s then, and simply didn't have the time, energy or inclination to join the churn cycle.
Same here. I finished my first work in my early 60s. When I saw what it would take to land an agent, go through the long cycle of submissions, turn over a publisher or two, then wait a year or two more to get the damn thing actually into print, I was out. Especially since I write alternate history fantasy, which is such a small niche, even success looks at best like a slightly ameliorated failure.

I'm much happier self-publishing, being read by hundreds rather than thousands, and losing money every year. As I tell those who are baffled by this: consider it my hobby; it's cheaper than owning a boat.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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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.

That is /so/ much better than the standard "Kill your darlings!" advice, which can lead to you chucking out perfectly fine and useful bits of writing on principle. If a "darling" makes you go "ugh, what was I thinking?" after a few months, kill it. If it's a case of "I like this bit, so it has to go," it's just about possible that you like it because it's good.
 

Steve Harrison

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I play it safe by treating all writing advice as opinion. Kill your darlings, write every day, put work aside before editing, show don't tell, and all the other 'accepted wisdom' flying around may be wonderful and useful, but they're not for me.

I love to hear how other writers work and solve the common problems we encounter; it's really helpful when I review my own methods. But when I encounter any 'dos' and 'don'ts,' I zone out because there is nothing definite in writing (including what I just wrote).
 
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JunkMonkey

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"Kill your darlings" wouldn't work for me at all as I basically write jokes (which by their very nature are short). One or two page comic strips. And I work on the principle that if it doesn't make me laugh then I have no right to expect anyone else to. If I killed my darlings then there would be nothing left!

Having said that. it has been painful from time to time covering up a particularly nice bit of drawing because I was stupid and didn't really consider the placement of the word bubbles in a strip before I did the art. (Or had to change them afterwards.)
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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'A matter of opinion' also extends to "show don't tell." There's nothing wrong with telling every now and again.
That reminds me. In the bar at a convention, I heard a couple of young writers trot out two of the most common bits of writing advice: "Show, don't tell" and "Never use adverbs." I had an Iain M Banks book with me, and Banks is, I believe, both very popular and critically well recieved. It contained numerous worldbuilding infodumps, and a generous sprinkling of adverbs....
 

Toby Frost

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If I was going to be absolutely honest, I'd say "Do what you like, just be sure to do it really well". Unfortunately, that's not very helpful. Most of the standard advice does prod the writer in roughly the correct direction and is therefore worth taking in, but there are moments when it's not appropriate or something else works better. It's quite hard to know when those moments are - and it'll often be a matter of taste - but the more practice and good critique you get, the more comfortable you get about choosing when to do so.
 

JunkMonkey

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'A matter of opinion' also extends to "show don't tell." There's nothing wrong with telling every now and again.


I just finished the fascinatingly ambiguous Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay which is 90% telling (and includes fourth wall breaking direct addresses from the author to 'the reader' - which is about as 'tell' as you can get). It's not been out of print since 1967. And they made a movie...
 

Stephen Palmer

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If I was going to be absolutely honest, I'd say "Do what you like, just be sure to do it really well". Unfortunately, that's not very helpful. Most of the standard advice does prod the writer in roughly the correct direction and is therefore worth taking in, but there are moments when it's not appropriate or something else works better. It's quite hard to know when those moments are - and it'll often be a matter of taste - but the more practice and good critique you get, the more comfortable you get about choosing when to do so.
I believe the modern phrase is to "own it." I "owned" my surreal madcap novel 'Hairy London' by not giving away to any urge for common sense and normality. I just did it anyway. Sometimes an author can hypnotise a reader into accepting what they're reading regardless of the unusual or anti-intuitive writing methods. A good SF example is 'Take Back Plenty,' which has a high proportion of tell.
 

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