One of my writer groups had an interesting discussion the other week. We discussed the worst writing advice ever given. I found it interesting what some writers decided was the “worst” that I actually like. I also found it interesting which ones appeared on their lists in general. I sat back and started to think about what advice I have discarded over the years. So, here it is, my three worst writing advice encountered over the years.
1. Draw up a plot outline and/or character outline. I agree on two areas with this piece of advice. The first is that plot is important. I have been helping a young girl with a story she’s trying to write. Throughout the critique process, I kept asking her if she knew where the story was heading. This is probably an unfair question. For me, I know how I begin and how I want to end. Over the course of writing, I figure out the details from point A to B. If she doesn’t know the ending, then she at least needs an idea of where she wants to go. Also, I agree that character development is important. It is good to know my characters. Where I stray from this is when people pull out extensive diagrams. They map every single detail of the plot. They dive into an extensive back story of their characters, dissecting them like a psychologist. I find the process too stifling and cumbersome. Spending all of our time mapping and planning doesn’t work when, halfway through, creativity happens and everything changes.
2. Join a critique group. I know, I know. This is highly used advice. Here’s why I caution against it. Most critique groups will be filled with people who set out to “critique” and yet many don’t know how to provide constructive criticism. Some just want to tear a piece down simply because it is not how they would have written it. It’s not that writer’s shouldn’t seek advice, but don’t seek it constantly and don’t seek it just anywhere. It should be in a structured environment where constructive criticism is taking place. Sometimes that’s hard to decipher individually, we’re too close to the situation. Therefore, maybe do so in a structured environment like a creative classroom.
3. “You can’t.” There is a lot of advice out there about how to write a novel. You can’t start with a prologue. You can’t write in the omniscient. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t. Most of the time, they’re wrong. What they should say is writing omniscient is hard to do properly, so maybe stray away from it. Or agents tend to hate prologues because of this. It doesn’t mean you can’t do either, but when you do, it has to have purpose…the same is true with anything regarding a story.
So, what’s the best? Keep writing. Can’t publish the first book? Keep writing. Stuck? Keep writing. That’s the only way to grow, develop, and, ultimately, become successful.