If you’re a writer, you’ve no doubt heard a lot of advice in your life. Maybe from friends or family, a teacher or professor, or just the writing advice that has been passed down through the ages.
Some of that writing advice, at least in my opinion, is bad. Sometimes even terrible. To be fair though, some of that writing advice can be good or bad depending on how you use it.
I’m not going to be discussing the good stuff, at least not yet. I’m here to discuss the bad advice or how they are used improperly.
Now these are all just my opinions, and so it is perfectly fine if you do not agree with me. After all, to each his own.
1. Write Every Single Day
Can you hear that? It’s the sound of burnout, and if you follow the ‘write every day’ advice, it’s going to be heading straight towards you.
I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t write regularly. Writing regularly is very important, as the brain is like a muscle. You need to have it work out to gain strength, and if you don’t use it, it’ll become weak.
However forcing yourself to write every single day is a good way to over exert your writing muscles, especially if you’re not used to writing regularly.
Not to mention that there are days where we only have the time or energy to write for 10 to 30 minutes. For most people that isn’t even enough time to get into The Zone.
Instead of writing every single day, try writing when you have the time and energy to do so. After that, you can discover the writing pattern you have.
Once you discover those patterns you can consistently reserve time out of your schedule to further that writing habit.
2. Names Are Super Important
Spoiler alert: Names aren’t as important as you think they are. How often do you meet someone in real life that has a name that perfectly describes their personality, profession, or destiny?
Not very often.
Plus, names can actually spoil parts of your story.
Let’s say you have a character named Regina, who’s a woman hiding in the enemy territory, and there’s a rumor that a queen has gone into hiding. The big plot twist is when it’s revealed to the reader that she is indeed the queen, and she’s been risking her life to spy on the enemy!
Not such a surprising twist if you know that Regina actually means queen.
If you want a good name for your characters, I suggest skipping the ‘it has to fit the character perfectly’ mindset, and just choose names that you like the sound of.
3. Write Super Realistic Dialogue
Please do not go into a cafe with a notebook, and write down people’s conversations in order to get an understanding of what real life dialogue sounds like.
You’re going to end up with this:
“Dude how was your day?”
“My day was… Um, well… I dunno, it was alright I guess. What about you, like, how was your day?”
“Oh man, my day was pretty lit. You gonna eat that?”
“I yarned this really cool find at the store! Crap, I mean I stored this really cool yarn at the found. I mean- Wait, what were we talking about?”
“This is so stupid.”
“I can’t believe this even happened.”
“Gosh, I can’t believe I slipped on a banana peel of all things!”
“I guess you could say that that was very unappealing of you.”
In other words, you’re going to get dialogue fillers, slang that’ll be out of fashion in a year, words in the wrong order, small talk that means nothing, people making dumb jokes, etc.
Instead of studying the silly small talk of strangers, try studying the dialogue in your favorite TV shows, movies, video games, and books.
4. Be Original
I don’t believe in originality. I believe that all of our life experiences, memories, and feelings culminate into every single thought, reaction, and idea we have.
Have you ever had an experience that wasn’t affected by someone else’s ideas, work, or presence? No, you haven’t.
Even if you sat alone in an empty room, with nothing on your person, that experience has been affected by someone else. Someone else built that room, someone else mixed the paint that’s on those walls. Someone else designed the floor, calculated the dimensions of the walls, etc.
Originality doesn’t truly exist, and it hasn’t for a long time. All of our ‘new ideas’ are built upon the ‘new ideas’ of our predecessors, and their ‘new ideas’ were built upon the ideas of their own predecessors.
That chain of building on top of a building on top of a building goes back for centuries, even millennia.
Don’t let your fears of originality hold you back from doing great things.
5. Read Everything That You Can
You can get a lot of material to read, even without spending money. So much so that, if you try to follow this advice to the letter, you won’t spend any time writing. You’ll be too busy reading!
6. Writing Is Solitary
Writing does not have to be solitary. It should not be expected to be solitary. Please do not cut yourself off from friends, family, and society just because you think it will make you a better writer.
Good writing comes from experiences, and as I said before, you can’t have an experience without someone else affecting it.
If you do find yourself to be a solitary writer, I encourage you to:
- Find a writing group (either local or online)
- Go to a cafe and do some writing there, then just spend some time taking in the energy of other people
- Ask your friends or family what they think should happen in the story whenever you get stuck
7. Said is Dead
Said is not dead, and you don’t have to use weird words instead. Seriously, except for in extreme situations, your characters do not have to peep, testify, ejaculate, bark, or chant their dialogue.
If you’re using weird replacement words for said because you’re using so many saids that it’s getting repetitive, you have a different problem. You’re using too many dialogue tags.
In most cases your dialogue can speak for itself.
At the beginning of a conversation, you should have a few dialogue tags to establish which characters are talking. Afterwards, they should have voices that are unique enough for the reader to differentiate on their own.
Sprinkle in a few tags just to remind the reader who’s talking, what they’re doing while talking, or if a way of speaking is not obviously clear.
8. Always Show, Never Tell
In general, this is a good rule, but following it to the extreme can make your writing sound overly poetic at best, and straight up boring at worst.
For example, I don’t need to read a full paragraph about how a side character, who only shows up in 5 scenes, has parted his hair differently and about how the light now reflects off of it in a strange way.
In fact, if it’s not important to the storyline, it shouldn’t be in there in the first place.
Maybe it is important though. Maybe it means that a normally rigid character has decided to change things up a little. Maybe his more casual attitude towards his appearance will create drama with a more important character.
Perhaps that drama with the more important character will create conflict as she takes out her frustrations on the protagonist?
If that’s the case, you can just tell your reader that his hair is different, and have it come back to bite that character in the butt later.
The reader will look back and think, “Oh, I get it. It’s like the butterfly effect. One small change can totally affect relationships and situations in the future.”
But if you spend a whole paragraph on how the wind rustles through it or how the light hits it in a beautiful way, or how he keeps running his fingers through his hair, the reader is going to get bored and then won’t be surprised when it has further effects on the story.
9. Your Main Character Has to be Likable
Your main character does not have to be likable, the reader just has to be able to sympathize with them.
Have you ever watched BBC’s Sherlock? Sherlock Holmes is condescending, arrogant, impatient, and cocky. He’s still a great character though, because we sympathize with him.
We learn early on that he wasn’t taken seriously as a child, and that he tries too hard to prove himself because of it. I’m sure we’ve all had a time in our childhoods when we weren’t taken seriously. While it may not have turned us into sociopaths, we can sympathize with him.
We also learn that people have a tendency to ostracize him because he’s different, and use him because he’s brilliant.
Again, I’m sure we’ve all had a moment in our lives where we have been used or been excluded. We sympathize with Sherlock because we know what it’s like to be in his position.
Do you have any writing advice that you’ve received and disagreed with? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be back with a new blog post on Monday.