Really Bad Writing Advice to Avoid

What’s on the iPod: Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

This week has gone by a little too quickly. I have one article due tomorrow (my own deadline, but a promise is a promise), and I have two blog articles to complete before the end of the month. Plus a stalled project may be getting back on track this week or next, so things are about to get busy again.

I was talking with friends about some really awful advice we’ve seen coming from people who consider themselves experts. Mind you, we’re all expert at something, but when sometimes the advice seems made up in order to fill some quota or drive traffic (controversy gets you more hits).

Where’s the reader’s interest in all this? Nowhere, that’s where. Instead, you’re subjected to self-serving content that does you no good. You can pretty much spot it most times, but in general there’s a bit too much “You must do it this way” advice for my liking. To me, the words “must” and “only” should be banned from articles that give advice. Unless you’re saying you must avoid awful advice, in which case you’d be right.

Anyway, there have been enough instances of bad writing advice lately to warrant a discussion on it. Here are a few things I’ve heard lately that couldn’t be more wrong:

Don’t say you’re too busy. I actually saw this online as one way writers can promote themselves. The eager writer, apparently, is supposed to appeal more to the client than a busy writer who’s in demand. Why this could backfire: If you look like you’re always sitting idle, that sends a message to clients that your skills aren’t necessarily worth a higher price. It’s actually opposite of what works. If you’re busy and you say so, you create more of a sense of urgency around your skills. It’s okay to be busy, and it’s okay to admit it.

Stay local. Cathy Miller said some self-appointed guru told her to do this, which is the opposite of useful advice. Now, if you live in a large metropolitan area, that may work for you. But if you’re like the majority in this country and you live outside one of those areas, your income will be seriously limited to the local cost of living. It’s a quick way to limit your potential.

A niche is essential. Right. Because you say so? I know plenty of busy writers who don’t specialize in any particular niche. I write in a specialized area, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Why limit yourself if you don’t want to?

You must outline first, then write. I’m so tired of this advice, mainly because I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually created an outline. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I get lost in the details and soon grow bored with the story. You don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right, and you’re not a failure if you write first then go back and add some structure. Honest.

That idea has been done already. Yes, someone actually told another writer this. Huh? Do we not realize that all ideas have been done already? It’s not the idea, but your take on it that’s unique. Anyone who tells you something so utterly stupid (calling it as I see it) is no one I’d want to take advice from.

Trade magazines pay less than consumer magazines. I smile every time I hear this. Trade magazine pay rates are competitive with consumer magazines. I write for one that pays $1.25 a word and another that pays $1 a word. Don’t avoid them because someone has convinced you otherwise.

Writers, what’s some of the worst writing advice you’ve seen?

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  • Cathy Miller June 18, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Any advice that doesn't fit your situation is bad advice in my book. That occurs from canned or as you described it, Lori, "must do" advice.

    Would you give a new client advice without learning anything about their business or current situation? Sure, we can gain ideas from someone's opinion or their own experience. But it has to fit our situation.

    It's like purchasing clothing from a second-hand-or the classier "vintage" 😉 store. It can fit us perfectly and become our own or look like an ill-fitting hand-me-down. ☺

  • Anne Wayman June 18, 2015 at 3:41 pm


  • LilyLu June 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    "Write what you know."

    If I stuck to that mantra, I'd never learn anything and would be bored to tears writing only about the things I already know.

    Try "Write about what you WANT to know." At least then you're motivated to research the topic and learn something, and then pass that knowledge (and excitement) on to the readers.

  • Paula June 18, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Oh -sorry. My dog accidentally posted my comment. She will do ANYTHING for attention.

  • Cathy Miller June 18, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Well, that's a good one, LilyLu. ☺

  • Lori Widmer June 18, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    That's one smart dog. Or as Astro would say "Rat's run rart dog!"

  • Paula June 18, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    To hear Lily talk about it (she's a very verbal dog), she knows everything. And if she doesn't know something, or is trying to trick me, she'll ask "Why?" over and over…. as in "Why do I have to have a bath?" or "Why can't I eat cheese and cucumbers all day instead of dog food?"

    Only with "Wroo-roos" instead of actual human words.

  • Melanie Kissell June 19, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    "You must outline first, then write." Uhh … nope. Who has time to create outlines?! Bullets, maybe.

    Don't get me wrong. Outlines have their place and their purpose. An outline comes in mighty handy if you're creating, let's say, an e-book. You'd almost be a fool to write a book without outlining first.

    The "pick a niche and stick to it" thing drives me bonkers. The folks who dole out that advice obviously missed the memo, "Variety is the spice of (freelancing) life." Sure, if you want to remain steadfast in one niche and one niche only, go for it. Personally, I'd get real tired real fast.

    Cool read and viewpoints, Lori — thanks! 🙂

  • Lori Widmer June 22, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Melanie, AMEN. I have never had success with outlines — not formal ones. My "outline" for articles is a string of subheads and questions. For books, I have an idea where things are going, and I create character maps so Uncle George isn't suddenly Aunt Fannie. 🙂