If you’re an aspiring writer, or even an established one, you run into reams of advice on how to improve your craft, sell more books, hook an agent, etc. Lots of this advice is valuable. Some of it isn’t. Here, I present to you some of the worst writing advice you will find in the industry.
- Write What You Know. This is a hoary chestnut from days of yore, but it still gets repeated often and everywhere. It’s ridiculous. Writers invent stories about realms that don’t exist and tales of adventure from the year 1066 when none of us was there to bear witness. I write about serial killers, and please believe me when I assure that you I’ve never even committed one murder, let alone multiples. This piece of writing advice is backward, you see. It should be: Know What You Write. You don’t need to write about your personal experiences. In fact, if you’re as boring as I am, you probably shouldn’t. But you do need to do your homework. If you’re inventing a new universe, you need to take the time to establish the rules of that world and understand how it works so that you can bring it to life for readers. If you are writing about a historical era, then you have to research that time in detail before you can put your story there.
- Don’t Use Adverbs. This piece of advice often gets traced to Elmore Leonard and Stephen King, and it’s just crap. For one thing, both Leonard and King use adverbs in their work. You know why? Because adverbs are an entirely useful part of speech. They add flavor and pizazz. You know who uses copious adverbs? JK Rowling. She seems to be doing okay for herself, writing-wise. Sure, like all words you put in a story, deploy your adverbs with intention, with care. If they don’t enhance the sentence, by all means, cut them out. But don’t toss them out entirely because that’s just silly.
- Focus on Building Your “Platform.” The caveat with this one is that for non-fiction authors, a platform is highly valuable. This is because the subject of your book and the subject of your platform are tightly entwined in non-fiction. (Example: mommy blogger puts out a book on parenting tips, or a recipe blogger publishes a cookbook.) But for fiction, your platform just isn’t as important. Your job on social media is to be a person, not a constant shill for your books. As such, social media itself doesn’t move many novels. Having a large audience doesn’t guarantee they will buy your books. A writer I know is friends with a famous comedienne, and he wrote a fairly funny crime novel. She hyped it to her TWELVE MILLION followers multiple times, but the book still tanked. So, don’t worry about amassing likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Go to the places where your people hang out and focus on being a person. This won’t get you necessarily build your “likes” but it will make you for-real liked, and it will slowly gain you valuable connections in the industry.
- Don’t Publish Until You Have a Bestseller Idea. Oh, that we could all be sure when we had a bestseller idea. The truth is you don’t know. And even if you have the idea, and even write the wonderful book, it doesn’t mean your book will turn into a bestseller. There is alchemy that goes into bestseller books, parts that not even the publisher or author control, and landing one is a little like getting hit by lightning. The best you can do is to go out with your pole in a rainstorm. Your book is your pole. If you keep them hoarded under your bed and never put them out there, then you lose all your chances. Besides, you learn something from every book, knowledge that is rolled into the next one, so if you sit around waiting at the idea stage, you’ll never get that deep knowledge that might transform you into a bestseller one day.
So there you have it. Writing is tough enough without having to worry about any of this stuff. What should you worry about? Stay tuned, and I’ll reveal that part tomorrow.