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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

9 Pieces of Writing Advice I Wish I’d Never Heard

When you're considering a writing career, everyone wants to give you advice or tell you horror stories about the friend of a friend who tried to become a writer and ended up starving to death in her lonely apartment.

Aside from the scary stories (and I suspect they're told by the same people who like to regale first-time mums with tales of agonizing labor), I think most of what is said is well-intentioned. But is it accurate? Not always. There are a few pieces I wish I'd never heard. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Don't Quit Your Day Job

While it's true that you don't want to go rushing into the literary world without a plan, it's also true that if you want to live as a writer, you're going to have to make the plunge someday. Don't spend precious time waiting for the exact minute when all the stars are aligned and the wind is coming from the right direction. If you must follow some advice, why not make it the advice from the Broadway musical, Wicked? Just close your eyes…and leap!

2. Write What You Know

Do you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of the Tarzan stories, never once set foot in Africa? For that matter, it's a pretty sure bet that he never went to Mars, either. And J.K. Rowling certainly didn't visit Hogwarts before her writing brought it into existence. Writing only what you know is dull. Write what you're passionate about and what you're eager to learn. Write the story you must tell. Everything else will work itself out.

3. Don't Tell Anyone About Your Project

It's true that some writers spend so much time telling others about their work that they never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and create anything. But as long as you're writing, don't be shy about letting others know about your project. You never know when someone else may help you come up with the perfect plot twist or provide information on a subject you don't know much about.

4. Never Watch Television

I would say instead, "Never watch television when you should be writing." But if you want to take some time off for the news, a favorite sitcom, or this year's best mystery/suspense series, be my guest. It gives you a chance to relax your brain. And who knows, you might even learn something valuable for your writing.

5. Everything Worthwhile Has Already Been Done

Sure, but that doesn't let you off the hook for finding new ways to make characters compelling and new plot twists that will keep readers guessing, even if they're pretty sure that they know the outcome.

6. Don't Edit As You Write

I have trouble with "brain dump" manuscripts, because they require so much editing the process becomes scary. I'd rather edit as I write so that the first manuscript is passably close to the final product. But then again, that's my preference. Write in the way that works for you.

7. Nobody Makes Money Writing Fiction

Actually, direct electronic publishing is changing all that. If you want to write a novel or a short story and publish it electronically at no cost, it could turn into, if not a treasure trove then at least a steady stream of income. Just don't forget to market your work!

8. Never Disagree with Your Editor

Most of the time, if my editor wants something changed, I change it. No questions asked. Once or twice, however, I've been concerned about how the edits would affect the piece, and I've contacted the editor with counter-suggestions or a request to reconsider. I've never yet met an editor who wasn't willing to at least listen to a different point of view. Don't be a diva and fight for every little comma, but don't roll over and play dead if you really disagree with the edits.

9. Don't Be a Packrat

I have yet to meet an author who didn't accumulate physical files and files on their computers with clips for story ideas, poems, interesting facts or statistics, breaking news stories, the best LOL Cat "capshuns," and a hundred other "useless" pieces of information. My best advice is this. Go through your files every six months. If you come across something that no longer interests you at all, toss it out. Otherwise, let it stay where it is. It's not like it's taking up that much room.

What piece of writing advice do you wish you'd never heard?   

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