Thoughts on “Worst Writing Tips”

Many thanks to The Z-Axis for letting me share my thoughts here instead of posting a blog-length comment on her post… I’m so bad for that.

Take a look at the original post here: The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received

You back? Hooray!

What did you think?

Overall, I agree: when presented as absolute truth, these things are nuts. Write what you know? How boring would my stories be?! When taken more broadly, though, I think there’s merit to some of the advice, especially if we can agree that the advice should be used by those who benefit from it, and all others should feel free to ignore it.

If you’re interested, here’s how it broke down for me (if not, see you tomorrow for WIPpet Wednesday!):

5) “Outline your stories before you write”

DEFINITELY an “if it helps you” bit of advice. I outline… a little. I know where a story is going, but if my characters are doing their jobs (ie being real people as much as they can be), they’ll throw twists and turns in there that I didn’t plan, and couldn’t have, but that make the story richer. So I say outline if it works for you, don’t if it doesn’t. Easy!

4) “Set a writing schedule and stick to it”

There’s no way I can set a schedule and stick to it, but I’m sure it works for a lot of people. I have to write when I can, which is usually after the kids are in bed and when my husband is working nights, plus whatever I can squeeze in during the day. However, I think there is something to be said for writing because it’s time to do it, and not waiting for inspiration to strike. Yes, I love when the words and images are flowing freely and easily, but I’ve done some of my best work when I felt like I had to struggle to pry every word out of my brain. So in that sense, scheduling can work for me, and I suspect for other non-scheduley types. Just showing up can be half the battle, and a schedule can help with that… or it can just be a lot of pressure. Whatever works!

3) “Show, don’t tell”

I think it’s actually good advice, but very ambiguous. Of course we’re always telling. But as a reader, I’d rather a writer show me a character frowning than tell me he was angry. As a writer I want to make you feel the panic beating in a character’s chest, I don’t want to tell you “she started to panic.” The imagery doesn’t have to be complicated, and sometimes it is OK to tell, but generally I do think showing makes things more interesting (assuming, of course, that we don’t take it too far, as noted in the original post!)

2) “If you’re not depressed, alcoholic, or somewhat clinically insane, you can’t create a good story”

I definitely think this is weird. Are you supposed to go out and try to become an alcoholic to help your craft? That said, I don’t think those things are roadblocks, either. If nothing else, my depression is great motivation to keep writing. It helps. A lot. I think it has given me a different viewpoint and voice from what I might have had otherwise, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Just different. And depression kept me from writing for years- between that and young children, I had no energy or brain power for it. So not so good in that way.

1) “Write what you know”

I do write what I know. I know my fantasy world. I know my characters better than I know my friends, and I can tell you the history of my world. I know what my dragons eat and why they hoard treasure. I know my magic system and why things work the way they do, even when my characters don’t. Do I write what I know from experience? Sometimes. I worked headaches into my current work in a way that enhanced the story, and I know those from way too much experience. But have I experienced everything I write about? Pfft. How boring would that be?! It should never have to be “write what you’ve done” or what you’ve seen, or where you’ve been*.I think “know what you write” (even if you’re making it up as you go along and clean it up later) is a more flexible way of saying this one.

So it’s not the worst advice, as long as it’s interpreted as broadly as possible. I think my work would suffer if I didn’t know those things I mentioned; if my characters’ actions were arbitrary and magic worked because I needed it to. But yeah, writing what I know from experience would just be a lot of depression and poopy diapers. Siiiiick.

End of my thoughts for today. Add your own, and be sure to share the love over at The Z-axis!

(Be sure to check out “The 5 Best Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received” for more thoughts!)

*And for the love of all that is entertaining and not irritating, it should NOT be “write who you are” unless it’s an autobiographical story.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

18 responses to “Thoughts on “Worst Writing Tips”

  • Kathy Dunlavey

    Absolutely for the “Show, don’t tell”. Nuts to scheduling…what’s a schedule? Alcohol definitely helps the creative juices flow…white wine works best in my case. Write what you know!!!???? I would have said absolutely not, then went back and read what I have of my Lon neglected “novel to be”. Without intending it, I have done just that!!! Who knew!!!???:). Like all advice, smile and nod and say “Thankyou”. Then take what you want to use and burn the rest!!!!!

  • A.M.B.

    I would agree with “show, don’t tell,” except when it encourages writers to get too bogged down in the details. There’s almost nothing worse than a convoluted sentence with redundancies when something more direct would have worked.

  • nicholeck

    Interesting post! I especially like number 2, the on about being depressed, an alcoholic, or clinically insane. Why do we have this ideas that all writers have to be tortured souls? I know that no one really wants to read the writings of an eternally chipper optimist, but there are other ways to find out about the reality of life.

    Also, it always drives me crazy when someone says “Show, don’t tell”! I’m guilty of giving this advice myself, and I wish I had a way to explain it that was succinct and concrete; it’s always such vague advice.

    Great post; thanks for the interesting read!

  • Jae

    Hmmm… Bad writing tips? Find a formula and stick to it. Your first draft will always be the best draft. Don’t ever read anything, you don’t have time and all their books suck anyways, which is why you’re writing yours. How’s that for bad?

    I’m definitely an outliner. I see it as getting directions to my destination. But if I hear about a better route along the way or cool things to see, I’ll go on side trips. There’s a funny video about bad writers and their attitudes. I’ll see if I can find it. You’ll love it.

  • Amira K.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I am particularly interested in your responses to #1 – it absolutely made me want to read your book! (Where DO your dragons hoard their treasure?) And I agree with most of your comments – when you look at the “tips” I shared on the original post, they can be read in either a positive or a negative way.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts – where and when can I find your book??

    • katemsparkes

      Hey, so glad you stopped by!

      I really do need to post something about my dragons some day. They’re horrible creatures, but I love them. 🙂

      • katemsparkes

        (and thank you for asking about my book– the first one is with critique partners right now, so it’ll be a while before it’s ready to see the light of day. People reading here will be the first to know 🙂 )

  • Mr Urban Spaceman

    I very much agree with your thoughts on point #1. If we writers only wrote about what we know, progress would never be made. Jules Verne would never have taken us to the centre of the Earth, HG Wells would never have brought us alien invaders, and we’d all be writing about the stale ennui of working a 9-5 job and sitting in traffic. Snore.

  • L. Marie

    I think it all comes down to process and the need to follow your own. Read a great post on that the other day: http://writerunboxed.com/2013/04/02/notes-from-a-desk-2-respecting-your-process/

  • picturemereading

    I like this a lot! I think it really comes down to your own personal writing style! I went to hear B.A. Shapiro speak and I liked how she said that you shouldn’t write what you know but rather what you want to learn about 🙂

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