Writing advice abounds on the internet. But as with all things online, you can’t believe everything you read.
When looking for writing advice, I strongly recommend taking every piece of advice with a grain of salt. Your writing will differ from everyone else’s in the entire world, and you need to do what works best for your story.
That said, there is wisdom in knowing the “rules” of writing and why the exist. That way, you’re choosing whether to follow a rule for a specific reason, not just writing blindly.
And now, I present my rant on the most terrible writing advice I’ve seen plastered (seemingly everywhere) online.
1.“Write What You Know”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard writers say you must write what you know, and nothing else.
This is ridiculous.
Yes, you’ll naturally be drawn to write what you know. And if you aren’t already writing something that moves you, something that reflects the core of who you are, you’re doing it wrong.
But that’s as far as I allow the definition of “write what you know” to influence my writing decisions.
I’ve written plenty of stuff I know nothing about. It takes longer to write this way, because it involves research. But I’ve learned some amazing things and found inspiration in learning itself.
And realistically, what I know is pretty limited.
There’s a lot of criticism these days about the lack of diversity in literature.
This seems to me evidence that hordes of writers are sticking to “what they know.” Maybe that’s why they (and even I) have remained in keeping with “typical” conventions, particularly in fantasy literature.
And you know what? I agree that the same old societal structures can become boring. It’s time to break away from that in literature.
Start writing what you don’t know.
Learn something. Diversify.
(And please forgive me if my next 3 novels are too “typical” in their settings and societal structures. I have to finish what I started).
2. Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On
Oh, come on. Read everything?
Writers should read, and read a lot. But nobody has time to read everything–nor is it advisable to read anything and everything you come across.
One of my favorite authors, Michael Moorcock, says writers should “read everything you can lay hands on.”
But Moorcock also goes on to say, “read everything… from Bunyan to Byatt,” implying he doesn’t recommend reading every book in existence, at random and without a strategy.
Instead, he seems to recommend reading books of quality, and a diverse selection at that.
“Stop reading everything in your genre,” says Moorcock.
Personally, I found this point surprising at first. Then, I thought about the times I’ve
I didn’t read Lord of the Rings, or King Arthur books, or anything that took place in a world with a similar setting to my own WIP’s.
I didn’t even read high fantasy, which is basically what I’ve been writing for the past… forever… years of my life. I did read
I looked for authors who wrote in ways that made my jaw drop. Some random, non-fantasy fiction from the library even made its way into my hands during one particularly difficult bout of writer’s block
But what was my criteria for reading these books?
When I’m experiencing writer’s block, I look for books that inspire me. Books that get to the heart of why I write.
If I’m reading to improve my writing skills, I do exactly what Moorcock said. I read renowned literature. Bestsellers. I look for literature that has impacted the lives of thousands, because that’s the kind of book I want to write.
When I read these books, I do so with purpose. Sometimes, if I’m pressed for time, I watch movies or TV shows instead.
(Heresy, I know).
But I do it for a reason, and that reason is to remind myself about what makes a story tick, which aspects of plot development I find the most engaging.
And it works.
I could go on for hours about how to read with purpose, for inspiration, and in a way that helps you write better. (See also: 10 Hacks for Overcoming Writer’s Block).
3. You must write 1,000 pages before you can write one good page
College professors told us this, and for a long time, I believed it.
I mean, to be fair, you do have to write a lot before your writing will improve. But there’s a difference between improving your technique and assuming your writing is terrible because you haven’t written 1,000 pages yet.
I look back on what I wrote in high school, and yes, it’s a far cry from what I’d consider worth publishing now. But what I wrote back then was leagues ahead of most people my age. (Humble, aren’t I?) I’ve always been a good writer, and the comments teachers left on my homework are proof of that.
It’s important to recognize your own skill and celebrate it.
Don’t let people tell you that you aren’t a good writer because you haven’t written “enough.”
Do you know how many people in this world are incapable of writing a cohesive sentence? (If you need evidence of this, look no farther than social media).
You are a good writer. Believe in yourself and work hard, and you’ll be as fantastic as you want to be.
4. Avoid purple prose
Ok, I guess I don’t really have to disprove this one because Writing Excuses has done it for me.
Yes, I’ve talked about the Writing Excuses podcast on my blog before, and I will probably keep talking about it. (You can’t stop me. It’s in my brain now, intertwined with all my thoughts the same way Aubrey from In the Forests of the Night and Lestat used to banter with one another in my imagination. “Used to.” Yeah…)
Honestly, I had no idea what the heck purple prose even was until they talked about it on Writing Excuses. But I immediately understood what they meant.
You know, when people use over-the-top descriptions for mundane things, and it just makes you cringe?
None of us have ever been guilty of that, right?
Reality check: everyone has written purple prose at one time or another. It’s all part of the process.
The phrase “purple prose” comes from medeival times, when people used to wear splashes of purple to show off their wealth. The more purple you could afford, the richer you were.
Writers who throw splashes of rich, eloquent text into the midst of plainer descriptions are often accused of purple prose.
I loved Brandon Sanderson’s definition of purple prose, not as “bad” prose, but rather, prose which stands out from the rest of the text with such contrast that it seems out of place.
He actually recommended, if you notice purple prose in your writing, to elevate the rest of your writing to that level of description and eloquence, rather than “dumbing down” the empurpled section.
So, purple, eloquent prose writers, be free! (As long as most of your text is purple).
5. Never write a Mary Sue
I heard this “rule” for the first time at a writing conference. Out loud, in the middle of a panel discussion, I said, “A what?”
A nice poet leaned over to me and said, “A Mary Sue is writing yourself as the main character.”
“Oh,” I said, frowning.
Inside, my brain was saying, Isn’t that everything I’ve ever written?! Isn’t that what I’m about to publish?!
I could’ve gone wallowing in despair, lamenting my failure as an author. I could’ve chosen not to publish Green Lady, for fear I’d just committed some cardinal sin of writing.
But here’s the thing.
Even as I was sitting there in the audience, frowning over this “rule,” something struck me as odd.
Yes, my main character is an embodiment of who I might be if I were a princess living in a medieval universe where magic exists. But she’s not me.
There’s no way, in real life, that I would be sleeping in the bug-infested wild, risking my life leaping through the treetops, or running around barefoot in the woods all day (okay, maybe that last one).
And there’s certainly no way I would trust a random shapeshifter who’d clearly been stalking me (for reasons I won’t divulge because… spoilers!)
So the concept of a Mary Sue just defies reason, if you ask me.
Some writers define a Mary Sue as “a character the author identifies with so strongly that the story is warped by it.”
This, I can see. Anything that turns your story into a soapbox is guaranteed to disappoint.
But unless you’re literally writing your life’s story, set in the real world, fact for fact, your character will never truly be you.
(And if you are writing your life’s story, I think you’ll soon find that authors struggle to convey who they are without adding a bit of fiction to their story. Just ask Hemingway).
At that same writing conference, I also attended a presentation on the psychology of personalities. I then proceeded to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test, not only for myself, but for every single one of my characters.
If you’re interested to find out, I’m an ENFJ, a personality type that I share with only 2% of the world’s population.
Turns out, I scored a perfect 50/50 split between being introverted and extraverted. (This explains why I don’t seem to understand the concept of being introverted or extraverted). Thus, I am also an INFJ. (I’m a super-rare enigma, guys. Watch out. I’m a chameleon!)
I was also fascinated to find out that my suspicion about Mary Sues was correct.
None of my characters were an ENFJ or an INFJ. However, every single one of them reflected an aspect of my personality.
That’s right. Every single character in my story reflects a small part of my subconscious. Surprise!
If you’ve read Green Lady, you may find it entertaining to learn my characters’ personality types. I wrote a separate blog post about it here.
If you haven’t read Green Lady, you may still find it interesting to delve into personality development. (I sure did).
Also, if you haven’t read Green Lady… get on it, yo! (Shameless plug). People have said it fills them “with intrigue and awe,” makes you “envision nature as a powerful divinity,” and that it’s like “simultaneously exploring a new world and revisiting a familiar childhood haunt.”
And if you’ve ever wondered just how much your subconscious will be on display throughout your writing, there’s your answer, in the quotes above. This book was, in fact, inspired by my wish to revisit a “familiar childhood haunt.”
Which is exactly why I have a Mary Sue.*shakes fist at sky*
6. Follow the rules of writing to the letter (haha, get it?)
Don’t get me wrong, rules exist for a reason. Sometimes, the reasons are pretty big.
If you don’t know what some of these rules are or why they exist, well. Edumacate yourself.
Once you know why the rules exist, you understand how to break them. Strategically.
For example, one of my biggest pet peeves is the rule “never use alliteration in prose.”
“Avoid alliteration always,” they say.
But for me, it’s more like, “Apply some alliteration, already!”
One rule I will always follow, 100% of the time, (I’ll get back to the alliteration thing in a second) is to never do anything that pulls the reader out of the story.
Any “rule” you break, whether it be radical conversation tags or excessive use of exclamation marks, if it distracts the reader from the story, it’s bad.
Bad writer. Bad.
But, that said, I’ve seen writers pull these things off effectively and still cultivate an audience of dedicated fans.
It’s all about why you’re doing what you do.
I use alliteration quite frequently in Green Lady, and it doesn’t (I hope) pull the reader out of the story.
(If I’m wrong, please tell me so I can go smack myself on the head with a rolled-up newspaper and question all of my life choices. But even my editor didn’t push back on my use of alliteration, so I think I’m safe).
To understand why I can successfully use alliteration in my novel, you first have to understand the purpose of alliteration.
Alliteration does many things. The sound of successive consonants can create rhythms and add flavor to the text. Sounds, just like words, have connotations. You can use alliteration to develop a mood, or an aura so to speak, for a given scene.
You can use contrasting sounds to influence the reader’s perceptions or support what’s happening in your scene.
You can even use alliteration for personification. “S” sounds can echo the whispering of trees when characters are sneaking through the woods. Harsher sounds can built tension or establish the mood of a fight.
But, similar to rhyming, alliteration also causes the reader to hyper-focus on the sound of the text.
This is why I expect the phrase “avoid alliteration always” has become common wisdom in the writing world.
Alliteration really is a double-edged sword. Imagine:
Your prose has been going along fine, maintaining a certain rhythm, but then you suddenly start using strange sounds and change the chosen rhythm with concurrent consonants, causing confusion, confronting your reader with curiously-focused description…
Your reader will probably lose their place and struggle to read the sentence.
Alliteration defies the way people speak. It has the potential to create new, interesting sounds, but when used in the wrong place, can interrupt the reader’s experience and draw their attention away from the story itself.
Which, as I mentioned, is the only rule I think writers truly need to abide by 100% of the time.
(There’s probably an exception for that, too. But I bet you it’s rare).
I, personally, love using alliteration to draw the reader’s attention to a particular description. Half the purpose of Green Lady was to bring to life a world I loved as a child—half-real, half fantasy.
Thus, I need readers to pause or slow down during certain descriptions, because they’re feeling a sense of awe in discovering this world. The impact is better if they have time to savor it.
My hope is that my use of alliteration achieves that affect. I’ve been told that my descriptions of the forest and the world are rich and beautiful, poetic. That’s exactly what I was going for.
I doubt I evenknew why I was using alliteration when I wrote those scenes. All I knew was that it felt right.
So, if you want to break a rule, break it. Just use your intuition to do what feels right for your story. And if you fail miserably, just smack yourself on the head with a rolled-up newspaper and say, “Bad writer! Bad!”
(No really, that’s proven methodology).
7. Build Your Audience Now, Now, Now!
Um, right. So, how exactly am I supposed to build an audience if I don’t have anything to give them yet?
Even I don’t have all the time in the world. Like many authors and self-starters out there, I work a full-time job, with writing as my side hustle.
I’d love nothing more than to be able to produce endless free ebooks, free downloads, and all kinds of other value content goodies for my readers.
But time can be a real struggle. On top of working full-time and writing long fantasy novels, I’m a mother of 2 young boys. I run a local writing group and manage my own website. I produce my own web content, work with contractors on book cover design, hire my own editor, create my own messaging, fill my own orders, format my own books, manage my own finances, schedule my own appearances…
Heck, I even DIY my own furniture.
My time is split in so many directions!
Even I have to take a break and binge watch Asian TV dramas on Netflix now and again. 😉
And I refuse to give you guys anything less than top-quality work, whether it’s free or not. Sorry, not sorry.
So I get it. Building an audience takes time, of which there is a limited supply. Personally, I’m glad I spent time honing my writing skills, first and foremost.
Sure, I didn’t have an email list when I published my first book, but I did okay with my book launch. And I learned in the process.
Each book I produce will draw more readers. As my kids get older, I’ll have more time to create freebies to build my audience and thank my readers.
And that’s okay. See, I have priorities in life, and my kids will always come before my writing. I would absolutely hate myself if I became successful, but my children grew up with the feeling that my success came at
You do not have to build your audience before you publish. You do not have to have a small horde of raving fans before you publish.
I’m not saying it wouldn’t help. It would help, for sure!
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of everything you have to do to publish…
If your book baby is all grown up and edited and ready to go out into the world…
If you’re so over spending any more time on your first novel (because everyone gets to that point eventually)…
You know people will love your work once they know you exist…
Or if you just know it’s time…
Don’t let anyone stop you from publishing with nonsense like, “Oh, but you don’t have an audience yet.”
Your book is meant to be read, and sometimes you just have to put it out there to get some eyeballs on your work.
(Read Tip #11 for some more thoughts on how to get eyeballs).
8. Real Writers Publish (with a publishing house!)
There will always be judgy haters out there. They don’t have to have any influence over your writing career.
This comes down to goals. What do you want your writing to accomplish?
Cause I guarantee
You’re already a writer.
Published or not.
One of the members of my writing group is writing a novel because it’s a bucket list item for him. He once said, “I’m not really a writer like you guys.”
Stop right there.
He is the most dedicated aspiring novelist I’ve ever met. He’s more consistent at writing daily than I am.
Not only that, but his crime novel, Sometime After Monday, is fantastic. (And I’m reading the unedited version!)
He’s a writer, and you can see it in the way he opens up his laptop and studies the screen at the coffee shop. You can see the cogs turning in his brain as he works out the story.
Not only is he a writer, but so are you!
If you’re reading this right now—that means you sifted through all my commentary on Tips 1-7 and you’re still here—you’re definitely a writer.
(Or you skipped ahead. Are you one of those people who reads the last page first? My mommy says I can’t talk to you people).
Real writers write.
And if you write, that makes you a writer. Anyone who says otherwise can just get over themselves.
Now, if your goal is to publish, there’s definitely a different sense of accomplishment that comes along with that. But not being published doesn’t mean you’re not a real writer.
(Though, I must say I started bragging that I was a “real author” when I received my first 1-star review. Thank you, Leona!)
If you want to publish, be prepared for people to say things like, “I was so bored I wanted to stab my eyeballs out with a fork,” that your writing is “dull, predictable,” and that they’ll “pick up the sequel when hell freezes over… actually [not] even then.”
Be prepared for some self-doubt. Be prepared for tears. And remind yourself that even Terry Brooks has 1-star reviews. From his fans.
9. You Have to Join a Critique Group
Meh. I’ve been in some great critique groups, and I highly recommend joining one.
However, not every critique group is worth your time. In fact, even within a single group, not every member’s input is worth your time.
We all know that we need feedback from readers. But if you’re considering joining a critique group, here are some things that will help you screen groups before going through the pain of joining a group that sucks:
- What is the group’s purpose? What phrasing do they use in their “About” section? Avoid groups that use negative language or seem to see themselves as superior writers. You want a group that sees its members (and leader) as peers.
- How do they critique? Do they give out work in advance or does everyone read during the meeting?
- How much time do they give each person to read/ receive feedback?
- How many members do they have?
- Who are the members? What do they read/ write?
- How often do they meet?
Even after finding a good group, always remember that not every member will necessarily be a good reader of your work. Take their feedback with a grain of salt, and only listen to what feels right for your story.
Especially if one of the members doesn’t seem to understand your work at all, feel free to just disregard their notes entirely.
I’ve experienced this before, wherein I read someone’s notes and thought, What do you mean you don’t understand why this scene matters to the main character? It literally says it right there, above your comment!
In this case, I came to the conclusion that the reader just didn’t read the entire scene, because the vast majority of the critique group understood that same point.
If you can learn how to sift through a wide variety of critiques, take what’s valuable to you, and incorporate it into your writing, then critique groups can be a huge help to your writing.
I especially find that groups like this are effective in determining whether the audience is reacting to my story the way I intended. To me, that’s a big measure of success.
Run far and fast, and don’t look back.
There are many, many ways to get feedback, and if you’re in a toxic group that’s too focused on their own superiority as writers to give you helpful feedback, it isn’t worth the impact it can have on you and your work.
10. If You Finish You First Book, You Know It All
Trust me, you don’t. Even after getting my Bachelor’s Degree, publishing a novel, and writing fiction for the past decade, I can confidently say I still have a lot to learn.
Here is my inner monologue over time, derived from the false belief that it would be so much easier the second time around:
Starting your novel is the hardest part.
No, finishing your novel is the most difficult stage.
Once I’ve written my first book, endless rewrites will be a thing of the past.
Ok, editing your book has to be the worst thing ever.
I lied. Starting is the hardest.
Why do I find myself stuck doing endless rewrites again?
Something tells me this will forever be my process. Granted, it’s faster the second time around, but I certainly don’t know everything.
11. You Have to Have a Finished Novel to Publish
I know this sounds absurd, but you don’t actually have to finish your work to publish it.
I’m sure you’re cringing, thinking of all the unedited fan fics in the world, but that’s not what I mean.
There are actually different platforms for sharing your pre-publication work and getting honest feedback from readers who know they’re going to be reading a draft, not a finished novel.
They volunteer, knowing they’ll get to participate in the novel’s creation, so to speak.
Plus, readers often value a personal connection with the author, something they don’t get to experience with every book they ever pick up.
Check out Fiction Vortex if you’re interested in how this could work (their setup is really cool).
When I heard about these guys, I got really excited. It made me think of all the possibilities, whether you publish with them, or through another platform, (or on your own—go, you marketing guru, you!).
And Fiction Vortex isn’t the only way you can execute this strategy.
I’m sure you’ve heard of authors who started writing on their blog before self-publishing.
I’ve even heard of writers who post their story to online forums that are geared to a specific area of expertise to get feedback on the execution of certain aspects of their book.
One author did this to get feedback from gun experts on the accuracy of his shootout scenes. The members of the online forum not only jumped at the opportunity to share their knowledge of how guns work, and how believable his scenes were, but their participation in the creation of his work actually created an audience of dedicated fans.
When I heard this story (I’m sorry, for the life of me, I cannot remember this author’s name, but he presented at a writing symposium I attended this year), I decided to try it myself.
At the time, I was writing a scene in which one of my main characters, Amnar, sails through a supernatural hurricane (aka, a goddess throwing a tantrum).
I conducted hours of research on sailing and how ships are navigated, and I was fairly confident that I could write a scene that gave accurate descriptions.
But, since Amnar was raised on an island and is a sailing expert, I really wanted feedback from a sailing expert.
So, once the scene was finished, I joined a few sailing groups on Facebook and posted a request for some quick feedback.
To be fair, I would love to charter a boat and learn to sail.
However, there was still snow on the ground out here in the Rockies, and planning a trip to the beach to learn sailing for novel research just wasn’t in the budget at the time.
(One day. I’ll post pictures of it on my Instagram).
So, I had to settle for feedback via email and Messenger.
I was overwhelmed by the response to this post! Within one day, I had 40 volunteers asking me to send a copy of the scene over to them.
Within one week, I had over 14 documents returned to me with comments.
Some of these people were navy veterans who’d survived hurricanes themselves. They told me about their experience, emphasizing perspectives I hadn’t even imagined. (As I figured, my own seafaring experience was severely lacking).
The comments I received were helpful, encouraging, and kind. People who don’t even read my genre were complimenting my writing style, and asking me when the book would be published. I even had a few people ask when they could read a copy!
As flattering and affirming as it was to get this feedback from complete strangers, the experience was particularly great because I got some real, honest insight into whether my descriptions made sense to expert sailors.
How likely is it that expert sailors will read Curse of Brys?
Well, before I reached out, probably not very likely. But now, I have a connection with a large group of people who love to read (imagine that) and have been asking me about my novel.
Since Amnar and I both have more ocean adventures ahead of us, I’m sure I’ll be keeping in touch. 😉