• The 9 worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard

    I'm usually an incredibly positive person and I don't like to focus on the negative, but when it comes to bad advice, it's usually something that you're unlikely to forget and you'll think about often when you discover it was rank and had you fooled. Here's my shortlist:

    1. If you sign with AmazonEncore, you’ll have no career. You will be blacklisted by the publishers.

    I heard this quite a bit back in 2009, and I was perplexed by it as well as troubled by the lack of sight in some of my writing colleagues. Not only has it not proven to be true, but the opposite has been achieved. AmazonEncore treats me like Samuel Beckett or James Joyce. My relationship with my publisher is closer to a positive familial one, rather than one of a cog in the machine. Other publishers would be wise to take a cue from them.

    When I decided to sign with AmazonEncore, I had another deal on the table from a traditional publisher. I have never once regretted my decision, and if the Big 6 wants to stop me from having my books placed on the first few tables inside the door at Borders and Barnes & Noble … oh, wait a minute …

    2. You should keep submitting to Agents and go the traditional route. If your work is good, someone will pick you up.

    If I had listened to that piece of wisdom, I wouldn’t be here today. I would still be submitting to the already, grossly-overwhelmed agents who receive upwards of 500 queries per week. A few years back, an article lifted the rock on this nasty truth and the world hasn't been the same since. No human in the world can manage that, thus the likelihood of being ‘discovered by an agent’ – whatever that means, is highly unlikely, regardless of how ‘good’ one is. There will always be a place for them in the new world, but in all honesty, I’m focusing more on ‘my own place’ instead. Our time in life is limited, I say use it wisely.

    3. You need to get an MFA in Creative Writing for anyone to take you serious or for your work to have any kind of lasting merit or depth.

    Really? A single piece of paper will distinguish me, where 400 will not? My years of writing and my many novels, published and unpublished, somehow are less than without it? That makes absolutely no sense.

    While many have gleaned much satisfaction from MFA programs, and many are worthwhile, for some it is not a necessary step in the pathway. It is a personal endeavor, not one dictated by a board of pencil-pushing bureaucrats. If this rankles you, be rankled. I sleep just fine. Some people need 12 Step programs and self-help, some of us don’t. Some of us have already had a bellyful. Some experiences in life that are rejuvenating to some, are like battery acid to others.

    You can gain the experience you need from seeking out equally qualified people who are all around you. Editors, educated readers and thoughtful professors who are likely a complement of your own life will serve you, as they have served other writers since time immemorial. Friends are always to be avoided, as well as family, but this world we live in has many editors at the ready if you’re only willing to seek them out.

    MFA's are for some, but not for all. Some people aren't really there to master the craft, let's be honest.

    4. Literary Fiction is a waste of time, you need to write about Vampires, Wizard Schools and Pirates. You won’t make any money and you’ll never get decent reviews.

    I write what I feel is important and while writing genre material for some is life-blood, it is not the course for all of us. I don’t knock it. I read it, too. For me, I have to write what I feel is important to readers who long for stories that are raw, close to the bone, from our own life and experience, as well as emotionally gripping, moving and heart-breaking.  While I would love to reap the rewards of commercial fiction, it is not my direction.

    My readers love what I have for them and the emails and hand-written snail mail letters I receive, where they spill themselves and tell of a similar upbringing ring loudly which both justify and actualize my writing career.

    5. You need to keep rewriting that book several more times before moving on to the next thing.

    I once read in Publisher’s Weekly the story of the man that had written a book in 1978 and then kept revising and re-writing it because he didn’t think Agents and Publishers would like it. He was convinced, by himself and a small group of people, other Agents mostly, that he needed to re-write it and did so until the late 90’s. The book was published, released, and no one gave a damn.

    He thought of his work as the New American Bible, and in my mind that is the absolute last thought you want to hold in your mind regarding your work. Yes, don’t approach the work lightly, but keep your sense and bearing at all times.

    The sad truth is, I would've likely read and enjoyed the earlier story and found it gripping but likely been bored by the over-polished product at the end of it. 

    Getting stuck in re-write hell is no place to be. Nothing is perfect, but the truth is – you already have every single sentence and situation inside of you, it’s struggling to bust out and break free onto the page. Your mind already knows the direction that the ship needs to travel. Don’t interfere. Write like you believe in yourself and your story. It will find good footing and build new strengths you wouldn’t believe.

    6. From myself: “I hate that line. I better delete it now.”

    I was stunned when I started seeing the same several passages being high-lighted by readers on their kindles and showing up as quotes on the Amazon main page. I found this feature mind-shattering. It gives the author a chance to peek into the mind of the reader and witness the thought process in action.

    Several of the quotes that are highlighted in my book Greyhound … I had on the editing chopping block numerous times. A few, I couldn’t bring myself to kill and the others my editors told me to leave because they were deeply moved by them.

    Trust your work. Trust the reader. What you might find commonplace and dull, might just be an earth-shattering revelation to someone else. Our lives really are different. If they weren’t, we would’ve all stopped writing books decades ago. Our stories and our life-experiences are our own.

    7. Don’t spend time detailing or outlining your plots. That’s just not natural and it’s too contrived.

    Really? Forgive me if I want to stand that notion up in front of a firing-squad and have it executed for treason. I had once heard a story on NPR about Vladimir Nabakov and how he outlined everything on index cards, and how they were about to put the index cards for Lolita in some far-away museum.

    I laughed out loud and swerved while driving, almost going off into a ditch. I immediately felt vindicated as I had been practicing this same habit of writing prompts on index cards since High School. I flipped the bird into the air at Stephen King, whom I love, but who had made me feel incredibly guilty for a very long time as it was highly publicized that he loathed outlining and warned against it. Just read On Writing.

    8. Don’t read Stephen King, he’ll pollute your mind. He’s grocery store drivel.

    Stop all that nonsense. I love Stephen King and always have. We all have highs and lows. He’s fantastic. Let me know when you have 47 novels. We’ll talk. You must read On Writing, even if you find him to be cyanide to your senses. Don't be 'above' something, just because you say you don't like it.

    9. There are no rules to this thing. The world is your oyster.

    That's just hogwash, there are lots of rules. You just have to figure out which rules apply to you, and which rules you have the power to break and rewrite.

    Intrigued by this? Keep reading, here's a few more of these 'Worst Advice' lists by some of my compatriots:

    Craig Lancaster (author of The Summer Son)
    Stant Litore (author of The Zombie Bible)
    Vincent Zandri (author of The Innocent)


    Steffan Piper is the author of several novels including GreyhoundYellow Fever and Fugue State. He was once kicked out of Nome, Alaska due to a minor misunderstanding. He has a blog, a Facebook page, a favorite film and lives in Palm Desert, CA. Currently hiring for an experienced get-away driver.


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