Monday, April 28, 2014

THE WORST WRITING ADVICE EVER by CHERYL PIERSON


What was the worst writing advice you ever received? Is there any such animal as “bad writing advice”? Not according to novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig. "There's only advice that works for you and advice that doesn't."

Is that true? Sometimes it seems, as writers, we can get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget the story and how to tell it. We become frustrated, and it can be downright maddening to try to remember every piece of advice from every writing source we’ve ever come across and tried to use properly.


No. It's not an Amish Romance...

Translating our ideas into language is one way of looking at our writing process, but how do we start? I have to admit, I am truly a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’—which is really out of character for me in every other aspect of my life. But somehow, orchestrating everything to an outline and strictly adhering to that brings out the rebel in me. I just can’t do it—and I’ve tried. Here’s an example of the differences from Richard Nordquist’s “About.com” publication on writing:

In his essay "Getting Started," John Irving writes, "Here is a useful rule for beginning: Know the story--as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story--before you commit yourself to the first paragraph." Irving has written far more novels than I. Clearly he knows what works for himself in a way that I don't always for myself, but this seems to me terrible advice. I'm more inclined to E.L. Doctorow's wisdom. He once wrote that writing . . . is like driving at night: You don't need to see the whole road, just the bit of illuminated blacktop before you.
(Debra Spark, "The Trigger: What Gives Rise to the Story?" Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Writer's Digest Books, 1999)

Yes. That’s what I do. I don’t always see the entire big picture, and I don’t need to from the very beginning. But I do see more than “just the bit of illuminated blacktop”—in other words, the immediate “coming up next” section of the story. So I guess I’m in category #3—Swiss cheese author—I know the basics of what’s going to happen, but even so, there are a LOT of little (and big!) surprise along the way.



Nope. Neither is this one...And by the way, this anthology held the #1 western slot at Amazon for a few days in July of last year, and contains my short story IT TAKES A MAN, which is a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker nominee in the Best Short Fiction Category for 2013

Aside from being on one side of the “plotter/pantser” fence and being told you’re wrong by the other side, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever had? You don’t have to say who gave it to you—but I’m curious…what was it? And do you agree with the idea that there is no bad writing advice, just “advice that works for you and advice that doesn’t”? Bring on the comments and opinions! The worst writing advice I ever received? “Try to write an Amish romance. That’s what’s “hot” now…” (from an agent). What’s yours?

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For some great reading, stop by Prairie Rose Publications here:
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Lots of good summer reads coming your way soon!

22 comments:

  1. The worst advice I received was from a woman who tries to write fiction but shouldn't. She said to use the "omniscient" POV at all times--don't write in pure POV. It so happens that I had a natural tendency to write in pure POV, and omniscient doesn't work for me--along with her advice was...the 'bigger' literary authors write in omniscient.
    Wow. Can you beat that?

    The problem I have writing now is that I know too much. In the beginning, I wrote with complete inhibition, not knowing about rules I broke. I wrote fast and the story flowed.
    Then I began to learn about POV, Show don't Tell, etc. and now I can't move on until I read and re-read a page....see what I mean?

    Excellent post, as usual--fun and informative. Thanks, Cheryl!

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  2. Oh, Celia, I feel your pain. I have the same problem with "over-education" when it comes to fiction writing. I often wish what has been seen could be unseen. **sigh**

    The worst writing advice I ever received was in a critique group years ago. Back then, I was unpublished and insecure about my ability to tell a story. I had a vision for the tale I wanted to tell, and for some reason every person in the group was adamant that I change essential elements of the manuscript, insisting--not merely suggesting--the story go in a direction they would have written (a different direction for each person, no less). I became so confused and frustrated--unable to tell whether they were off-base or I was a hopeless failure--that I didn't even look at the darn thing for months.

    Since then, I've learned to write for me. My stories succeed or fail on their own merits, not someone else's oddball notions. If a story makes ME happy, that's all that matters. :-)

    (I should say that thankfully, even when my editor slaps me around, her advice is always good. ;-) )

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  3. To be honest, most of the writing advice I've ever gotten has been good. For myself, I had to learn that romance writing is a LOT different than the writing I taught high school students, especially magnificent description that readers in a hurry will SKIP. Also, an ancient manuscript of mine is crammed with headhopping and therefore will never see the light of day LOL. Good post, Cheryl.

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  4. Worst advice... mostly because I tried to adhere to it for too long... NEVER write in first person.

    I do my best writing in the role of my protagonist. Not every story lends itself to that, but when it works, it works best for me.

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  5. Great post Cheryl. Because of health issues in my younger years, I never took any writing classes, or joined any writing groups. Really, the only advice I received was from my husband when I was making suggestions on his stories. That was for me to write my own stories.

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  6. Hi Cheryl: While I can't say I've gotten truly bad advice, I can relate with many statements here. I am a panster. Sometimes, I'll outline a few chapters ahead if I get stuck. And like Celia, in the beginning, when I knew absolutely nothing, the writing was easier and fun. Now, I edit and re-edit and re-dit as I go along, but I do break some rules. And I agree with Kathleen, the more people who critique your work, or the more you ask for advice, that's how many different opinions you'll get. It does get confusing, so I write to please me and the characters and fix mistakes as I find them. Great topic!

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  7. Where is the "like" button on these dang comments? :-D

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  8. I've been told that you have to know your story from beginning to end before you can start writing. Tried that. Didn't work for me. I'm a complete panster.

    And I agree with Celia - knowing too much is not such a good thing. "Ignorance is bliss". I put a little of that into my writing. When I get too absorbed in the "rules" my writing stalls...sometimes completely flat lines.
    It's like when I first started riding horses - I had no fear. I was completely ignorant about what could happen when I climbed into the saddle. Now that I'm an "educated" rider, I think about all the terrible stuff that can happen and go wrong when you put yourself on the back of a 1000 plus pound animal with a will of its own. And it takes the joy and freedom out of riding, just like following all the "rules" takes the joy and freedom out of writing.

    I've also received too many "suggestions" from critique partners on where they thought the story should go, to where it no longer felt like it was my story. Very discouraging.

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  9. Celia, omniscient POV was a huge deal "back in the day". Also, remember in the 70's and 80's how head hopping was the thing? It never bothered me. I kind of liked knowing what everyone was thinking at one particular time. LOL I have a huge long ms. that I would love to put out, but it is full of that, because I wrote it during that time period. I love the story so much. But I don't know if I have it in me to go back and re-do it all to make it fit the style we have to adhere to now. Makes you wonder what the next 10-20 years will bring, doesn't it? Thanks for your comments. Like you, I used to write like crazy, the story flowed, and now...it's more carefully "produced" than it was in my early days. LOL

    Cheryl

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  10. Tex...my eyes are wide...my mouth is hanging open. YOU were insecure?????? That's the reaction I suspect a lot of people have when I tell them I was very shy in my younger days. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    All kidding aside, writing is one of those fields where a person can break someone's confidence with one look, one word, one raised eyebrow. Here's my number one piece of advice to new writers. DO NOT JOIN A CRIQUE GROUP! For some reason, most of these groups have a least ONE person, (usually more than one), who feels that it is her duty to tell others how crappy their writing is--in a nice way, of course; but still, the message is clear. Usually, this person doesn't know any more than anyone else in the group, and sometimes less. Their insecurities about their own writing make them believe it's fine to tell someone else (or everyone else) in the group just what they could do "better". SIGH. It's one of those ideas that seems like it would be beneficial; like you're going amongst like-minded people. But most times, in reality, it's dog pile on the rabbit, and the sooner you get out of the group, the better. My advice is also the same on critique partners. You better be damn sure you know the person and the motives, and their strengths and weaknesses before you invite them into your writing life to tell you what you are doing "wrong".

    There are so many hidden agendas out there.

    Thanks for sharing, Kathleen.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  11. Tanya, it's too bad we didn't get those mss. out back in the day when head hopping was "the thing" to do, isn't it? LOL

    Yes, anymore, description seems to need to be kept to a bare minimum, doesn't it? I think it's part of the way our society has become--sad, isn't it, to not be able to take the time to read slowly and visualize the setting. That's one thing Penelope Williamson does so well in her books. It's like you are right there, and she describes things in a way that make you see it without WANTING to skip anything.

    Cheryl

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  12. Alison, I agree. I think the reason most people tell new writers not to write in first person is because it is so limiting in many ways. But what people fail to realize is that it is also very freeing in others! I love writing in first person. My trilogy that I wrote for the YA category (which adults have loved too!) is in first person. It couldn't have been any other way. And that was the only way to be able to bring the dawning realization of growing up to Will Green's mind, and shared it with the reader. I had those books out with Western Trail Blazer, but moved them over to our Painted Pony Books imprint and Livia created new covers and we titled them differently. I've gotten some really good reviews on them, and when I was writing them I was thinking, "Where is this coming from?" LOL Stick with what's good for you. It makes the story more natural sounding, I think.

    Cheryl

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  13. Livia, that was excellent advice! You and James are SO lucky to have each other for the support system you provide each other. That's just wonderful. And I can't believe you're here, broken arm and all! LOL You are so tough.
    Cheryl

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  14. Julie, that's true. Everyone has their own ideas about things and people sometimes tend to want to change things just because they can. I'm so glad you stopped by today. Sometimes I think the pantsers are a dying breed! LOL

    Cheryl

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  15. Peggy, I hear you. I don't have a critique partner. I never did and never will. Other people can take over your story and suck the joy right out of it. I always try to be so careful when I edit that I don't make arbitrary changes--there has to be a darn good reason for them. And remember the advice in the locket that "Fancy's" mother gave her in that song: "To thine own self be true." Nothing sums it up better. How can you take joy in something that you can't write the way you want it to be? If it's worth you sitting down and writing, and putting your heart and soul in, there is no one you should ever let come along and tell you "Well, I'd do this or that." Write your own story, then! LOL

    Rules, rules, rules. We have to be careful and not be too rigid about them or there is no life left in the characters. It's a fine line, isn't it?

    Cheryl

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  16. The worst advice I ever got came from an agent who'd never seen my work. "Revise, revise, revise, then edit, edit, edit, and edit again, then send it to me." By then, I knew that I'm not a reviser. If a scene doesn't work, I throw it out and start over; otherwise, the whole rhythm of the story is thrown off. Rhythm is the most important thing in writing humor. What I send out is actually a proofread first draft.

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  17. Jacquie, that's so dumb, isn't it? Why "revise, revise, revise" if it's good the first time around? I agree--rhythm is so important in any story, but in humor, it HAS to be perfect.
    Cheryl

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  18. The worst advice isn't really advice, it's being looked over or ignored.
    Writers are strange critters. They have a tenacity that just doesn't quit, but they're also very fragile. A negative comment, or worse, no comment--like you weren't worth a mention, can pierce the heart of a writer and send them into negative feelings of not being good enough.
    You're right about critique partners and groups, Cheryl. Sometimes they nick-pick the happiness right out of you.

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  19. That's so true, Sarah. That's why critique groups can really be detrimental and hurtful. And I know people don't set out to be mean for the most part, but it doesn't take much for our writers' egos to just be crushed. It takes many long years of hardening to get to the point where you just go, "Heck with everyone--I write what I want to write." Meanwhile, your happiness can be completely destroyed!
    Cheryl

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  20. Sarah, you have such a wonderful way of encapsulating the writer's experience. Everything you typed was right (write?) on the money. I especially love the way you phrased "nitpick the happiness right out of you." So true!

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  21. Me too. That's something to remember. Every writer has a style, and when you find constant fault, it takes the style away and makes it read like a textbook.
    Cheryl

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