I see lots of writing advice. Sometimes it’s some writer’s best practice. Other times it’s a time-honored truth. And sometimes it sucks with the power of an army of shop vacs. I’ve seen writers asked for the best and worst writing advice they’ve heard, so I thought I’d do that in a pair of entries this week and next. In order to end on a more positive note, I’m starting with the worst.
The worst writing advice I ever got went something like this…
So, you want to write? Don’t. That’s right: don’t write. Just walk away from the keyboard, leave the room, and never come back.
Another version I’ve heard says that if you feel the urge to write, you should go lie down until it passes.
I’ve run into several other versions, but they all say the same thing. If you think you want to write, don’t do it. Just give up. Don’t even try to write. Quit now. This is not for you.
If you dig deeper into this kind of advice, you’ll find that what they’re really trying to say is that it’s hard work, and for the vast majority of people who try it, it pays only in tears and crushed dreams. The last time I checked, the mortgage company does not accept payment in dreams, crushed or otherwise. So, you should give it up. Maybe that’s harsh, but for at least 99% of you, it’s excellent advice.
Excuse me, but I say BULLSHIT.
Yes, writing is hard work. Yes, it usually pays poorly. And yes, most of you won’t be particularly good at it.
But telling you to not even try is like telling a kid to put down the ball because he’s not likely to make it onto a professional baseball team. Or perhaps you’d rather tell a 5-year-old to put away the finger paints because she’s unlikely to be the next Picasso? Or to tell your son to stop looking at the stars because there are so very few astronaut slots?
To hear those words coming from a professional writer smacks of elite hypocrisy. “Here, take this advice that I did not heed and am glad I never did, but for you it’s spot-on. Yes, I used to suck just as bad as you, but I’m brilliant now, and you’re not. So go away, kid. You bother me.”
They justify this by saying that for every potentially great writer they discourage, they save ninety-nine others the heartbreak of crushed dreams. I say to hell with that, because I think those other ninety-nine will have a lot of fun trying, just like all those young athletes who never turn pro.
So feel free to ignore that advice. If you want to write, I say you should go for it.
For what it’s worth, the distant second in the race for worst writing advice ever was that if you’re going to be serious about it, you need to go back to school, get a degree in English, and learn both Latin and German, preferably with Latin being your second major. The idea was that you could then understand the English language well enough to know when to use the Latin-derived word instead of the Germanic-derived word.
So, here I am writing science fiction and fantasy… is “phaser” from the Latin? What about “zombie”?
How about you? What’s the worst writing advice you were ever given? (Or skip writing and go with any bad advice.)