top of page

Bad Writing Advice to Ignore When You're Writing a Book

There are so many things I would do differently if I could go back in time, and a few of them relate to writing. So while I've already listed off the things I wish I knew before I started writing a book, here's some of the advice I wish I hadn't wasted my time trying to follow. Because some advice is just plain bad, and some doesn't work for everyone.

Bad writing advice to ignore


First books Always Suck—And There Is Nothing You Can Do About It

I'm going against established laws by saying this. I'm arguing that the sky is not blue, that gravity isn't real, and the earth isn't round… but first books don't always suck. They suck because you think they suck. Saying it's going to be bad no matter what you do basically gives you permission to write crap. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously, this bit of *ahem* wisdom actively irritates me. Sure, your first draft isn't going to be the stellar bit of writing that the final version will be, but that doesn't mean it sucks. It just means it's a diamond in the rough. It's your job to make it not suck. How can a writer improve if you don't learn to rejig the words and reduce the er… suckitude. Shelving a bad book doesn't help make it better. It's just a shelved book.

The despair I felt when I read that no matter what I did, my first book was guaranteed to be awful made me want to throw in the towel. "What's the point of writing it, then?" I screamed, hands poised to throw my laptop against the wall.

"It's practice," the internet assured me. "Your second book will be better."

My issue was that I was writing the story I had been thinking about for years. This was the story I wanted to tell. Admittedly the final product barely resembled the initial idea, but still, I didn't want THIS story to end up in the garbage pile. Or worse, hidden in a folder on my soon-to-be smashed computer. If I had known that my first book would be horrible, I would have written something else. I would have saved this idea for when I don't suck as a writer. How stupid is that? Purposefully writing something you don't want to write because of bad advice.

Ultimately, I had to ignore the bad advice that my first book would suck no matter what I did. I spent years and millions, yes millions of words, on this story. If first books are always bad, then I would write the book over and over again, making it my first, second, and third book. By my count, I rewrote so many scenes and rejigged so many plot lines that I'm on at least book four. It just happens to be the same book. First, books only suck if you let them, or at least that's what I have to tell myself. Otherwise, I would never have a first book—I wouldn't have finished it.

Writing Goals — you need to write every day

I will admit that when I first started, writing thousands of words in a single day seemed impossible. I remember writing 500 words in one sitting and being in awe of how many words I managed. The more you write, the easier it gets, but writing a book and writing general content are two different beasts. Creative writing is challenging in an entirely different way. I will always be able to write a blog, a bio, or content for someone else with less difficulty than when I write my book. So many things are happening in a book, so many storylines, character arcs, and plot points all tying together into a giant messy ball of chaos.

At one point, while writing my book, I got into a serious writing groove. I was banging out thousands of words a day. Then I slumped. My dog died, and I was more than a little bit distraught. I didn't want to write, and when I did, it was dark, brooding, and more than a little bit self-indulgent. I began to feel really bad about myself and my quest to write books for a living. I felt like a failure. One of those people who tries and fails to write a book. I was supposed to write at least 2000 words a day like all those other writers who churn out perfectly good books every couple of months. I think this would be described as burnout. And I did it to myself. There was nothing fun about it, nothing. My previous job working in Corporate land had more highs—and that's saying something.

Once I picked myself up from the floor, I decided that if I couldn't write, I could edit. So, edit I did, and every word I had written during my' writing groove' sucked. I could feel the force behind it. Every word was a redo. I had completely wasted my time because I was measuring my output by word count rather than by quality. It's baffling to me now; why did I do it? I can so clearly remember clawing for words, reaching desperately for the final 100 that would get me to that magic mark of 2000 words written for the day. Every single word was a strain.

Writing every day is a nice idea, and presumably, it works for some people, but I've yet to meet a writer who can maintain that approach forever. It's treating writing like something that can be measured through word count, and it can't. My new approach is to ride the highs— I banged out 6000 words in one night when I was on a role. And let the lows go without being overly harsh on myself. Because the truth is that it's harder to write when you feel like a failure, and word counts and writing goals make you feel really good until they don't. If I'm in a good mood, I write a humorous scene. If I'm in a bad mood, I write a grumpy one. Write what you can, and feel good about it.

You Have To Outline and Plot — or Your Book Will Suck

Outlines and plotting works great for some people, and I salute you if you are one of them, skip this point with my goodwill. I'm a pantser. I'm so much of a pantser that I eventually realized that even writing a scene in my head kills it dead before I ever get a single word on the page. A real problem, given that's how I get to sleep—by telling myself stories. Being a keen little writer and even keener researcher, when I first started, I wanted to give myself the best chances of success. So, once I had pantsed for a bit, I plotted what was left of my book. I did the whole shebang. I took every vague plot point I had skittering around my brain and put it to paper. Then I tried to write it. It was horrific.

None of my characters would behave. They all point blank refused to adhere to their plot points. If Elise was supposed to turn left, she would go right. She was supposed to like someone, and their relationship would crackle with contempt from the first line of dialogue. One of my characters turned evil on me! He just straight up started cackling in corners. Plotting does not work for me, and I wish I'd never tried it because it almost tanked my book.

Don't Use Adverbs Because They Are Wrong And Bad And Evil

I have written a whole post on my love adverbs. I love adverbs. They are the best.

Write For Yourself And Not For Anyone Else/ Write Because You Love It — or Your Book Will Suck

Excuse me, mam, this is a Wendy's. Of course, I'm writing for other people; what kind of mad person do you take me for? Imagine other careers were taken this lightly? Imagine people told lawyers and doctors that they should work for the love of the 'craft' and for the money, success or I don't know, for their patients and clients.

This advice irritates me for so many reasons, here are three of them:

  1. It seems to follow the creative spirit who doesn't care about money cliché, and I can't stand that. I want to write for a living. I want to make money from it. This is not rocket science, it's not a high concept— I need people to like my writing, so I can write more.

  2. Write only for yourself, encourages people to hide their writing. If I have to hear about one more person who has four fully completed manuscripts in their bottom drawer, I'm going to scream. Publish it. Please publish it. I want more books, and you are keeping them from me. Self-publish under a pseudonym if you're embarrassed. Maybe one person will read it and hate it, or perhaps it will become an unexpected success, but you'll never know until you let me read it!

  3. The same people who will tell you to write for the 'love of the craft' will tell you that you HAVE to plot, that you need to follow traditional story structures, and that it's best to only write what you know. Trust me, if I was writing only for myself, it wouldn't follow a single rule. I wouldn't spend so much time figuring out what makes a story intriguing, the main character likable, and the twist nice and twisty because why bother when I'm not writing to entertain a reader?

There seems to be a few mentalities around why writers write and who they are writing for.

  • The writer who writes entirely for the largest group of readers—This writer will include as many love triangles, vampires, and brooding heroes as one could wish for. I'm not slagging this writer off. I like and appreciate those kinds of books.

  • The writer who writes only for themselves—Personally, I find this kind of book the dullest. Give me a broad-shouldered vampire whose semi-abusive kind of love makes the not-so-feisty heroine bat her eyelashes. I'll take it over what often feels like an extended therapy session stylized into a book.

  • The writer who writes for other writers—I spoke about this briefly in my review of season 6, episode 7 of Rick and Morty. I confused Google a lot with that sudden jump to an only slightly connected topic, but my point stands. Some writers write to impress other writers. They want to show off their lack of adverbs and keen understanding of tropes and plot devices. I sometimes find myself falling into that category. I don't mind, but also I do because it's not always intentional.

  • The writer who has something to say and wants to share it—This is obviously my favorite kind of writer. And I don't mean that the writer has to have an arms-deep point of view about big topics, preferably not. They might want to share their take on a new kind of cinderella or have a cool new idea on vampires. Maybe they have a unique magic system or a spin on an old one, but they have a story, and they want to entertain the reader by sharing it.

Only Write What You Know — or Your Book Will Suck

This advice just flat-out confused me, and to be honest, I did ignore it from day one. How on earth could I NOT write what I know? If I don't know it, then I can't write it, now can I?

I'm being pedantic. I know what they mean. Still, I would change the advice to only write what you can imagine. Or maybe, only write what you know or can discover.

It's just dumb advice, don't tell me JK Rowling wrote that she knew when she wrote a book about a prepubescent boy filled to the brim with magic and crushing on his best friend's little sisters. When exactly did she experience a sorting hat? Did Tolkien have experience being a hobbit with a ring? Cos he had lots to say on the subject.

Show, Don't Tell — or Your Book Will Suck

I spent a lot of time on this advice, I researched it till I was blue in the face, and I concluded that almost everyone means something different when they say it. So I would listen to all of them and none of them. As such, I can do whatever I want. There is a nugget of truth in the advice, but it's not expounding pages demonstrating how your main character is blonde rather than just stating outright that she has blonde hair. Rather—for me— it's showing what you tell. Don't tell me blondes are universally loathed in your universe and then have every character fawn over her golden locks. Don't tell me your character is clever only to have her gibbering like a moron in the next scene. But that's just another interpretation of Show Don't Tell for you to ignore at your leisure. After all, show, don't tell was advice originally intended for movies, not books.


bottom of page