When you go on the hunt for writing advice, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s good advice and what isn’t, at least at first glance. Writers, myself included, operate with good intentions when they try to help others. But sometimes we go about giving advice in a way that isn’t quite as helpful, or encouraging, or inspirational as we’d like it to be.
Here’s a quick guide to help you spot good writing advice, and a few examples for the kinds of writing advice you should approach with caution.
Good writing advice is …
- Specific, yet broad
- Applicable to different types of people
- Helpful and detailed
- Based on personal experience
In short, “good” writing advice is actionable. Anyone reading or listening to it should be able to go away on their own time and apply it, which means it should be explained well. This also means writing advice should never be given to one “type” of writer. Also, writing advice based on personal experience should acknowledge that “this is what works for me, but it might work for you too.”
“This is the best way to be a successful writer.”
Actually, there is no “best” way to write successfully. There are ways, and then there are better ways. One writer’s “best” method might not work for someone else. So if a writer claims their advice is the best, they really mean it’s the best strategy they personally have found. It might be better than the strategies you’re using now, but we can’t really know whether or not there’s a “best” way out there. As always, focus on improvement, not perfectionism: continuously look for ways to get better, and don’t try to be the best. No writer is “the best.” You can trust advice that aims to help you improve.
“Write every single day.”
There’s nothing wrong with writing every day. I do it, because I’m not a normal human being with a normal human being brain. But many people – physically, mentally – cannot write daily. Telling someone they need to write every day is bad writing advice. Giving a suggestion is one thing, but telling someone that something potentially challenging is a necessity is steering them in the wrong direction. Challenges are meant for slow growth and development. Telling writers they need to push themselves too hard is guaranteed to set them back. So if another writer recommends writing daily, you might consider trying it. But never feel like you’re a failure if you don’t. Advice that suggests, rather than “forces,” is good advice.
“If you don’t do this, you’re going to fail.”
A lot of these examples have to do with the way things are phrased … you would think writers would be a little more careful about how they word things, but everyone makes mistakes. If someone tells you that you’re going to fail if you don’t follow their advice, that’s a pretty big red flag. First of all, it doesn’t hurt to shop around for different fragments of advice you can string together to create your own effective writing success strategy, the same way you might look at movie or restaurant reviews before spending money on a date. Second of all, telling someone they’re going to fail in general just isn’t okay. Again, bad phrasing. Look for writing advice that is affirmative (“Do these things to be more successful”) and encouraging.
It’s harder to give advice to other writers than you might think. We forget that not everyone thinks or operates quite like we do. We’re only human. So as you’re exploring the internet for writing advice (unless you just want to stick around here … I wouldn’t be opposed to that …), keep in mind that many of us are doing the best we can. We really do want to help. That’s why it’s okay to challenge our points, voice your opinions and comment on what does and doesn’t work for you.
Writing is a different experience for everyone. There are some similarities from person to person, but in general, you do figure out how your writing brain works. Writing advice is often meant to emphasize what you already know and give you a much-needed kick toward your laptop. If that’s what you need, as always, I’m happy to be able to lend a hand. Or … foot.
Have you ever received “bad” writing advice? What kind of writing advice do you find most helpful? See you down in the comments. :)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.