Bad Writing Advice

While doing research on-line I found various articles and blog posts that refer to bad writing advice. Just in case you were not confused enough I thought I share some.

This one is a killer, it’s David Edelman’s blog, and the first thing he considers “Bad Writing Advice” is “Show, don’t tell” …hum

Here’s what he said about it:

“Show, don’t tell.” News flash: writing is telling. It’s a completely linguistic art form. There’s no showing involved, unless you’re writing illustrated books like Dr. Seuss or graphic novels like Neil Gaiman. The real distinction to be made here is between writing descriptive language (e.g. when your character is drinking whiskey from a canteen around a campfire) and dynamic language (e.g. when your character is fleeing from rampaging cannibals through the underbrush). Both forms have their time and place.

I found this article very helpful. It’s by Jeff Sexton, and he uses a little real life advice from his high school swim coach to relate his spin on good vs. bad writing advice. Here is some of what he says about doing the backstroke:

“Don’t worry about putting your pinkie in the water first; that’s bad advice. Just relax your arm and roll your body as you swing your arm back into the water. Your pinky will naturally enter the water first — without you worrying about it — and you’ll have better mechanics.”

Once I started focusing on the principles behind the mechanics — and not on the outer form of the mechanics — my entire stroke transformed. And while the swimming tip was helpful (thanks, Coach!), the idea behind the advice has proved more so.

In “Psychology Today” I found a blog post called 11 Types of Bad Writing Advice” by Susan K. Perry.

I read through the list and my favorite was #2.

Advice that cramps your imagination. Some people would have you write only from your own point of view or about a group to which you belong. That’s too rigid. Credible stories and poems have been written from the point of view of the opposite gender or from some other time or culture that you couldn’t possibly know personally. Writing is about pretending.

I think we all fall into this trap. We read so much about how to write and how not to write that we try to follow it all and it seriously cramps our imagination.

I also liked #11

Advice that insists there’s only one correct way to write, propose, query, or submit your work. For instance, you’ll hear: Avoid adverbs; never use the passive voice; don’t start a sentence with “there are.” Every one of these “rules” has been broken repeatedly to terrific effect by top writers. And while there are established formats for query letters, nonfiction book proposals, and novel synopses, for every successful sale based on those formats, there’s a major exception.

We need to follow our instincts when we sit down to write a story. Advice is great and I love to read articles on craft and style. I always learn great new things and want to apply it immediately, but we need to remember to keep it fun. If we take ourselves and are writing too serious than it becomes work.

I read this article by Carolyn Kellogg called Bad (even worse) Writing Advice and found something very helpful:

“The general consensus is that the NEVER and ALWAYS rules are pretty useless; there are always worthy exceptions.”

There were two themes throughout everything I read on bad writing advice.

The first applies to every aspect of our lives–nothing is ALWAYS and NEVER!

The second was to follow your instincts.

Before I close on this topic, one more article caught my eye. It’s funny–and a bit disturbed, but makes me feel a little less like a writing fraud. Get your shovels out for this one. It’s called, “Bad Writing Advice: A Great Big Steaming Pile Of –

Which are your favorite bad writing tips or good writing tips?

11 thoughts on “Bad Writing Advice

  • If it is written so well it approaches literary fiction most people won’t read it.

    drtombibey.wordpress.com

  • These are all great! Thanks for sharing. I just think it’s important to write, and to keep on writing, without paying much attention to rules (okay, apostrophe mis-use makes me crazy, but it’s largely irrelevant and a result of working at Houghton Mifflin in the distant past.

    Write. Write more. And then write still more.

  • Gah. Obviously parentheses mis-use doesn’t bother me so much…..

  • I disregard anything that uses always or never, with writing and anything else. Unless they’re used in humor to exaggerate a point. (See, I let myself off the hook with that one!)

    If I hear the whole passive voice thing again I’m going to freak out. Yes, it’s a valid criticism (ond overuse of passive makes for a really boring book, I’ll admit), but to say NEVER use passive is about as bad as NEVER use -ly adverbs. Do you know how many good novels I’ve read this year with “was” plastered all over them? A lot. Because I notice now. Because someone somewhere made me paranoid about it. Jerks.

  • Neither side is wrong. It’s all about what works for the writer and what doesn’t. If every piece of advice was valid for every writer’s voice why read anything at all.

    Without diversity in writing, we would all be sharing the same stories, told in the same fashion, using the same words, in the same context, pattern, rhythm…and on, and on. It’s the writer’s skill in developing a believable voice for the character that makes the work unique.

    Mastering fundamentals like punctuation is necessary. But, mastering perfect English grammar in my opinion does not necessarily make a good story.

    There are books that I absolutely loathe because it is clear the writer is trying to impress their colleges with their extensive knowledge of the English language and their impressive vernacular. But, there is obviously a market among those professionals to keep each other entertained.
    Just as there are plenty of books written by authors with no more than a high school diploma, an average vocabulary and a great story to tell.
    There are dark, slow, dreary fiction works for emos. As well as flamboyant purple prose for those who read those books wrapped in brown paper bags, and high action books for people like my husband who has to be nailed down to a chair to read anything.

    Just write what you enjoy, in the style and voice you enjoy writing in, and the market will present itself. It may not be a huge market. But as long as you enjoy what you are doing, who cares.

    My advice on advice…read it all, take what you need, put the rest to the side for when it may apply to what you are working on. And for the really silly crap, well, just throw that away.

  • For beginners, I love two things I learned in BWW.

    1. Write without concern regarding its worth. That is, write with the intention of throwing it in the wastebasket. This frees oneself from the fear of writing.

    2. Give yourself permission to write. Don’t listen to voices inside your head that grab the pen out of your hand. Put the pen to paper and write one sentence. Sit back and then write one more. That’s how a story or book is written. One sentence at a time.

  • kathanink

    I connected most with the “show don’t tell” part. I agree completely with what the writer said, and I think teachers might do a better job of explaining that to students. The thing is, I think it’s important for the very beginning writer, so they can be helped to avoid saying things far too simplistically. But I personally think beginning writers are far too verbose and need to write more clearly – to get the point across with the least amount of words – not just with more descriptive words.

    Also, I think it’s a great point about the writing rules (passive voice & adverbs). When I use my grammar check, I look at what I wrote to see if what I am saying can be said better w/o a passive verb. But sometimes the poetry of the words sound better than the technically correct words. So I leave it!

  • Great Anti-Advice! Well that is what I like to call it. I like the “Show, Don’t Tell” part. I agree with the guy that wrote it to an extent. Of course, I like this phrase better: show, (don’t) just tell. I believe that is horrible advice to give new writers. It puts the imagination to sleep to quickly. Overall,I believe “Show, don’t tell” is reduntant advice and more focus should be place on the use of concrete imagery.

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