Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Things People Told Me About Writing That Was Full of Crap

Here at the Anthony Pacheco: Hack Writer portion of Adventures in Writing, I like to accent the positive. There is enough negativity in the blog sphere.
On the other hand, it is necessary to review the negative influences on occasion.
If I were to take a WAG (project manager slang for “Wild-Ass Guess”) at positive/negative writing advice, I would categorize it as 70/30. I received outstanding writing advice. There are also tales of woe on the interwebs (and in person), but these tales serve as a pointed reference to “don’t do that.”
I’m a big believer in learning not only from my mistakes, but from your mistakes as well!
Some advice I received, however, sucked. Sucked dead bunnies through a garden hose sucked. This topic is blogged periodically, but it’s good to review the badness in order to recognize the goodness. In no particular order:
**You have to outline
If any singular writing advice caused me grief, this was it. Imagine an outliner who carefully has a three-color index card method of outlining, with each color corresponding to the beginning, middle and end of a novel.
Now tell that person to write a novel without outlining.
She can’t.
The opposite is true for some people.
Thankfully, this advice is becoming passé as modern creative writing techniques recognize a wide variety of plotting styles.
I actually devised my own outlining method. It’s loosey-goosey, but it works for me.
**Before writing a novel, you need to become proficient in writing short stories
This is almost as bad as the outlining advice. There are people who need to write a novel before they can actually write a good short story. I was one of these people. My short stories sucked. Then I wrote a novel. Then my short stories did not suck, because I got it. I learned so much in writing a novel that I learned the necessary elements in storytelling to write a short.
**Your work should contain no derivative elements
Ug. Try writing genre fiction containing not a single element explored by a novel already published. You can’t. I learned that voicing, then, is everything. Your unique voice, rather than your idea, is what sets you apart.
As long as you plot doesn’t suck, that is.
**Write what you know
This isn’t exactly bad advice, but pithy advice. Thanks. That is helpful. Really. Tomorrow I am going to climb into my sentient space ship, which will deliver me to a different planet via FTL with a hyperspace hop, so I can have hot lesbian sex. Cause then I would know what it was like.
Henceforth, this should be “write in your unique voice”. Because that is what people really mean when they say “write what you know.”
**Avoid commas
Man, if ever went down the dark path, duped by well meaning advice--that was the doozey. Swear to God, one of my beta readers was going to KILL ME for not putting commas in appropriate places.
Now, I regularly abuse commas. Commas are my bitches. I am a Comma Pimp. At home, I line commas up on a mirror and snort them.
How about you?
What bad writing advice have you received?


  1. Don't use dialogue tags. Don't use 'was'.

  2. Comma Pimp? LOL! Love it! I can't wait to use that phrase in a sentence. By the way, did you realize I was a comma pimp? Too funny.

    You listed the majority of the bad advice I've received and/or read about on the Web.

    I don't outline. I couldn't outline to save my life. Heck, I couldn't outline to save the Universe!

    I suck at short stories. Still do, though I can force one out if in desperate need.

    I was an Elf in a previous life, so writing about them was quite easy. Oh, and that magic bit, piece of cake! Oh, and can I wield a sword, or can I wield a sword? I'm with you on the write what you know thingy! It's all about the unique voice, and not your actual sword fighting abilities, or sex with lesbians thing. : ) Then again, my current project incorporates drinking margaritas into the story, and I do know a thing or two about margaritas. I'm just saying . . .

    Thanks for the great post, and comma pimp!


  3. Snorting commas! LOL Too funny!

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. bwahahahahaha! *snorts coffee*
    Thanks, Anthony,for writing a hilarious post.
    Isn't it strange how well-meaning advice can get turned into do-it-or-die gospel? You put it nicely in its place.

  5. "Write everything like a screenplay"
    This is actually called "3rd person cinematic POV"
    It sucks, and I have no idea where I picked up that advice from.

    "Don't use 'said'" Always substitute an active verb like exclaimed, shouted, warbled, etc. Turns out "Joe said" is fine.

    I feel like "don't use was" actually helped me a lot, but now I see that indiscriminite application of the rule is bad.

    "Eliminate all adjective and adverbs"- Yes and no. Depends on the scene and the pace at the time. If I'm describing a garden, there's a big difference between "flower garden", "vegetable garden" and "marijuana garden". Without the adjective, I lose something.

  6. Wow, awsome post! Totally digging it. And by the way, I've had a comma addiction for some time now. And it's one of the crap pieces of advice I've been given. A few others are:

    One work on ONE story (short or long) at a time, NEVER more than one. Finish it completely before starting another project.

    Finish your ms, and then work on securing an agent/publisher. Focus on getting the first ms out in print before beginning work on another.

    Write for the market. Boy that was a stinker at a distance. I didn't even retain that one passed the period at the end.

    Write what's 'in'. That went out the window as quickly as the above listed one.

    Do not, under any circumstances, try to and debut with anything over 80k words long. NO ONE WILL EVER LOOK AT YOU AND YOU WILL FAIL.

    That was perhaps the worst advice of all. Word count does matter, but to tell someone they're going to fail utterly, just because of word count, is ridiculous, and worst of all, it made me doubt my ms, which is epic fantasy and not bad at 120k, considering that you have a ton of elements to introduce to the reader.

    Enough commas in that for you? ;)

  7. Show don't tell for EVERYTHING! Man, you just can't do that! Some things only need a little space on the page and you've to tell, not draw it all out by showing.

  8. I will NEVER forget in a HS class having the teacher make us brainstorm 100 title ideas and 50 first line ideas for a paper. He told us they were THE most important part of any paper/article we would every write.

    But he had us do this BEFORE we ever wrote the paper. Kind of hard to get 50 ideas down when you don't actually know what you're doing yet.

    1st lines important? Yes. Wasting two days writing them and hoping that one will work for your finished piece? Crap.

  9. I think the title got my attention more than anything.

  10. Hilarious :D

    I'd add the all important writing excercises.

    I hate them. I suck at them. I simply can't write on the fly.

    Who cares? I'll tell you who.

    no one.

  11. That short story/novel business used to drive me crazy. They are two separate art forms and not everyone can do them both well. You wouldn't tell a composer "don't write an opera until you've mastered a sonata."

  12. Never ever use exclamation points. Read every book on writing that you find. If you want to find an agent you have to have a blog and a webpage. None of this was helpful.

    Thanks for sharing.


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