This article was originally posted here.
If you’re anything like me and follow a lot of writing blogs (as you should) you’ll read a lot of great advice from established writers, publishers and the like. However, you’ll also come across a lot of truly awful advice. And it can be hard to separate the great from the godawful. Often the worst offenders are found in posts listing an obscene number of “Writing Tips”, many of which are repeated ad nauseum on every single list.
Here are four common writing tips I’ve encountered that you really should ignore:
“Writing is rewriting.”
No, no it isn’t. Writing is writing; rewriting is rewriting. They are two entirely different processes with different skills required to do them well.
Writing a first draft of anything is an unbridled creative experience, whether you have an outline or an in depth plan or no plan at all. It’s writing, it’s what you live for.
Rewriting is more controlled. You know where you’re going and what you’re doing. You’ve done it, now you’re doing it again having learned the lessons of the first draft. Rewriting can be a great thing, but it’s different to writing.
And it’s not always necessary.
Let me be clear: you should always go back to edit your work. Always. If you don’t, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to get the grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc. right the first time and that will distract you from writing creatively. But rewriting? That’s an extreme action, to rewrite a whole piece.
And very few people are suggesting you rewrite everything at least once, which is why “writing is rewriting” is awful advice. It’s snappy, memorable advice, but taken at face value it can be very damaging to an inexperienced writer.
Better advice would be: “Rewrites revive dead writing.”
“Just write, even if it’s bad.”
Sure, if you hate yourself. Now, I’m being a little unfair, this is a great way of overcoming writer’s block, but it’s not much use for someone who’s perfectly able to get the words out. In fact, it’s quite damaging.
If you write and write and all you’re doing is turning out bad work then you may as well not be writing for all the good it’s doing. There are better ways to spend your time. Write a paragraph. If it’s bad, analyse it and work out why you feel that way, then write it again. It’s better to slow down and fix problems, while improving your craft through self analysis, than to write something bad and dig yourself a hole that only the delete key can solve.
Even if you have writer’s block and feel like you just need to power through, this advice isn’t specific enough. It is much better when trying to get through writer’s block to just free write. Better than that, use your free writing productively, by doing a character’s inner monologue or riffing on a topic. By nature that kind of writing is mostly throwaway, but it can produce some gems, insight into your character or a snippet you can use in dialogue or even a new story idea.
You can always make use of your writing, but use it wisely. The point of the advice “just write, even if it’s bad” is to keep you writing all the time, and you absolutely should keep writing as often as you can. But slowing down and making sure it’s good, learning from when it’s not, is far more productive. And utilising free writing to generate creativity and support your writing is infinitely more useful than writing a few pages that you’ll be deleting tomorrow morning.
“Tell people you’re a writer.”
Now, I’ll temper this before I say it: it’s perfectly fine to call yourself a writer. However, you should be one first. Deciding to try to make a living as a writer doesn’t make you a writer, it makes you an aspiring writer. If you start calling yourself a writer straight away you’ll give yourself a sense of accomplishment for doing literally nothing towards making a living as a writer.
And that’s the point. If your goal is to “be a writer” then you’ve made a huge mistake already. Your goal is meaningless. Your goal should be an actual accomplishment, like writing a novel, or collection of short stories or poetry, or to make enough money as a writer to support yourself on writing alone. Because that’s what you mean, probably.
And none of those goals require you to call yourself a writer. Not a single one.
This advice probably comes from the idea that telling yourself and others that you are a writer will put you in that mindset. But it’s not necessary, and underneath what is quite an empty statement you’ll feel like a fraud for calling yourself something that you don’t believe, truly, you are.
So call yourself an aspiring writer, or say that you are trying to pursue a career as a writer. Then, one day, you’ll finally achieve your actual goal and realise you’re a writer.
Which is an excellent excuse to treat yourself to a self indulgent celebration.
“Get feedback on your work.”
Unless you have the ear of an accomplished writer or editor, feedback is not going to be useful. Again, I have to temper it, as having people read your finished work is a perfectly fine idea, but asking for feedback beyond “did you like it?” is not going to yield good results.
Here’s why: your friends, family and coworkers have absolutely no idea how to write a good novel. Just no idea. They know whether they like something, but they absolutely do not know why they like it. But they will try to give you advice, because you asked for it and presumably they like you and want to help.
Specific feedback from non-writers will only breed insecurity in you. If someone tells you “I think Hilda should die at the end” don’t take that advice. If everyone who reads it says they liked it but hated the ending, then maybe you should think about killing poor Hilda. But remember, you need to follow your gut, maybe Hilda just needs to lose a leg.
Having an honest first reader is great to get a guage on how others may react, but if you want specific feedback on craft you need writers on or above your level.
Feedback isn’t gospel, and most readers have no idea what they like.
Those were four of the most common writing tips that you should absolutely ignore. As with most bad advice, there is some truth to the original point but through repetition and bastardisation that truth has been lost, so the well meaning tip becomes less than helpful. Have you heard any other writing tips that are just plain awful? Leave a comment below.
As always, keep writing.
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