A writing forum I frequent started a thread on unhelpful writing advice. Writers like these types of discussions because we have all received bad advice from time to time and now that we know that it’s bad advice, we like to point and laugh at all the silly rules. I’m starting to wonder now though if all the bad advice was really the best advice because it’s through the bad advice that we figure out that no one knows what the fuck he or she is talking about. To that end, I present to you the greatest writing advice you will ever, EVER receive:
1. Never start a sentence with a conjunction. You should also try to avoid other little words like or, the, a, I, we, they.. in fact don’t start with a word which is less than five letters long. You should also try to stick with nouns. Explosions is a good word to start a sentence. See how long it is, and exciting.
2. Character names should be memorable so avoid common names like John or Mary. But you should also avoid names which are *too* memorable like Ishmael. If you have a character named Jasmine her friend should have a name with fewer syllables which starts with a different letter, preferably a vowel like ‘Ann.’ The same goes with Jasmine’s boyfriend who should be called ‘Oliver’ who, based on the same rules, should have a friend named ‘Victor.’ In fact you should probably plan out all these names before writing the story so you know the entire cast of characters you’ll be dealing with down to the gas station attendant Maximillian and his wife Una whose names would be unknown to the reader completely if not for your clever way of having a character read their name off the nametag silently to themselves to show how deep and introspective
you they are.
3. Have a memorable signature.
4. Don’t write in first person. It’s dead.
5. Also dead: present tense, adverbs, adjectives which don’t engage the senses, disco, fishmongering, third person omniscient point of view, space elevators, second person, nice little girls who turn out to be evil, mean little girls who turn out to be nice, kids playing in a field and discovering the ancient sword of the once and future king, ebay, the internet, traditional publishing, self publishing, and sarcasm.
6. Commas are like elephants,
7. If you can’t write a decent first draft in one sitting, well, maybe writing just isn’t for you.
8. Always know the end before you write the beginning.
9. You don’t need an outline. Sometimes the best ideas come ‘organically’ from the text. Kindof like how the best coffee has the label ‘organic’ right there on the bag.
10. The opening paragraph of your story should really grab the reader. Like, imagine the reader is a person on the subway platform and your story is the psychic Starbucks barista who is about to take the train home when suddenly she has a vision and she knows anyone who gets on that train is going to die and she needs to tell that anonymous subway platform individual that he NEEDS TO TAKE THE NEXT TRAIN OR HE WILL MISS HIS SON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.
11. The opening paragraph should also answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how, how long, to what extent, why not, wherefore, why is this significant, who is John Galt, do you agree that, how would you classify, is that you, Bob?
12. Your characters should be so expertly drawn that they are the ones that decide what it is that they want to do and say. You should indulge them. They are your children after all.
13. “Don’t allow your character to remain inactive for more than 2 hours.” –Gareth Jones
14. Writing is writing. And also revising and rewriting. And rewriting is writing with a writer’s eye towards restitution. Editing is still editing except when it’s copy-editing which is like copy writing without caffeine.
15. Use the following formula to determine the optimal number of words you should be writing every day:
Words in WIP | 2x – 64 |
__________ x _______________
Hours in Day Words written in WIP
Where x = number of professional markets from which you have collected more than two rejections.
16. You should avoid reading as much as possible in order to avoid accusations of copyright infringement.
17. You should only read things in the genre you wish to write in so that you can become familiar with the tropes and not accidentally confuse your epic fantasy readers with a grizzled cop mourning the loss of his partner.
18. You should read outside your genre as much as possible because reading is good for you.
19. You should only read stuff which was published 50 years ago because anything old is ‘classic’ and therefore better than anything which has come out since. Don’t worry if this results in stories which emulate old fashioned ideas about sex, race, equality and other irrelevant things. It was called the golden age for a reason, right?
20. You should make your stories as long as possible since most markets pay by the word and that means you’ll get a bigger check.
21. When a critique group says it’s too long, what they really mean is it’s too short because you haven’t spent the time to make them really care about the character and they lose interest. Thus you should get into the habit of doing the opposite of what people suggest. If they say it’s too short, make it shorter. If they say it’s too confusing, put in footnotes to all the academic articles from which you cobbled together your explanation of faster than light cloning time travel elevator technology. If they say it’s bad, they probably mean they don’t want you to submit it because you are the competition after all.
22. A lot of people say that writing is a job and you should treat it like one. This is untrue. Writing is more like an unpaid internship in a really non-prestigious field where you’re subjected to a hostile work environment filled with narcissists, misogynists, racists, and other people of a loud and uncouth manner. And if you don’t love every minute of it, clearly you are DOING SOMETHING WRONG.
23. You should maintain an active online presence even if it cuts into your writing time. Everyone knows that name recognition is the single biggest factor when it comes to buying something. This is called marketing and a lot of people get paid a lot of money to do that in other fields.
24. Everyone remembers what you wore to that convention that one time. Everyone.
25. Be an asshole. Everyone respects an asshole.
26. Show, don’t tell. Except when you need to tell, don’t show. You know webcomics? Writing a novel is exactly like that, so you should go watch television and see what other facets of the visual medium you can incorporate into your art. Also, learn to draw. An illustrated version of your story is a great way to get an editor’s attention in the cover letter.
27. If you don’t know, make it up. Research is for non-fiction.
28. If someone tries to tell you that what you wrote was offensive in some way, you can ignore the criticism and win the argument instantly by claiming it’s all subjective.
29. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever under any circumstances use a word other than ‘said’ to describe dialog.
30. No word should repeat more than 5 times in a single page. Zero exceptions.
31. If it doesn’t rhyme, then it’s not a poem.
32. Rules are stupid and you shouldn’t follow any of them.
Wow, I could go on like this all day but I have an exam in the morning so I leave it to you to add your favorite bits of writerly wisdom in the comments.