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Saturday, August 31, 2019


How To Spot Bad Advice and What To Do About It

by Guudmorning on
I run the Twitter account for WOW! and my day job, and I'm also on there for my personal account. Some of you may use it to market yourselves or follow your favorite authors or join in on discussions, using hashtags such as #writetip, #writerslife, or #writingcommunity. Twitter can be full of funny tweets, lead you to intersting and informative articles, and allow you to interact with people whom you normally wouldn't during your everyday life. can also be full of a lot of misinformation and sales-y approaches, as well as (I hate to be cliche but) ... fake news.

The other day on Twitter, I saw this tweet from Emily Everett in the #writingcommunity chat:

Writing community, help me out - I sometimes get novel feedback that I shouldn't use contractions in narration, only in dialogue. I've always used them because it's a fairly close 3rd person limited, in and out of character's mind without signaling it. Thoughts?
I immediately answered her with "bad advice" and why I thought so, but this entire thread of writers also chiming in with "this is not correct and don't listen to these critiques" made me wonder how much bad advice is out there in the writing world, how many of us are listening to it--whether on social media, in unhealthy critique groups, in professionals who don't know what they're doing--and how do we stop this!

Now, if you're expecting a clear answer to this dilemma, please don't be disappointed when you get to the end of this post, and I don't have one. I'll admit tackling this problem is still something I'm mulling over. I seem to be encountering more and more writers these days who have a story similar to Emily's, where someone in the industry has told this writer an absolute (such as don't ever write a rhyming picture book) or wrong advice (describing your characters' race is unacceptable these days). So I came up with a couple tips that I've been sharing with other writers and that I'm implementing myself:

1. Listen to your gut! I can't stress this enough. Most of the time, you know if someone is giving you bad advice and/or the critique you received is just wrong for you and your work. We doubt ourselves too much in my opinion; and if your gut is telling you that this person does not know what he/she is talking about, then discuss this with other writers whom you trust. By the way, here at WOW!, we're always happy to help with this. You can leave us a personal message on Facebook or on Twitter, and we will answer your question or direct you to someone who can.

2. If it's an absolute, it's probably wrong: Now, someone reading this post will come up with an absolute that is not wrong, and that's fine--this is why I said PROBABLY because I don't want to use an absolute when giving advice. (smiles) But honestly, there are very few rules in the writing world that some author hasn't already broken--and was probably told never to do it before she broke the rule. J.K. Rowling was told that her first Harry Potter book was much too long for her audience of readers and that no young reader would ever stick with a fantasy book that long. J.K. is laughing all the way to the bank!

We'd love to hear any stories of bad advice you didn't listen to in the comments below or if you have some tips for how to decide if what someone is telling you is correct.

Margo L. Dill teaches three classes for us: Writing a Novel With a Writing Coach (9/7), Individualized Marketing For Authors...(9/11), and School Visits and Author Talks...(10/16). Check them all out on the classroom page and enroll today!  

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Blogger Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I also consider why the person is giving me this advice. Perhaps my attemps was too heavy handed. Or don't use contractions is truly legit (some early reader publishers don't use them).

But it might also be that this person sees themselves as The Voice of Authority in spite of their lack of expertise or sales.

Thank you for the thought provoking post!


8:38 AM  
Blogger Nicole Pyles said...

Ah bad advice. Several years ago I got a snarky, nastagram comment on my personal blog about how blogging about writing was a terrible idea. Especially when I wasn't published yet. I took her advice (unfortunately) but now I am back again to blogging about writing with WOW and I have no regrets about doing so. Sometimes people give advice coming from negative places, maybe not even aware it's bad advice. This is why the advice I give for providing feedback and critiques, try not to do it when you are having a bad day. Wait to give feedback on a good day. Great post!

12:35 PM  
Blogger Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Most of my experience with advice comes from either my writing critique groups or from an expert editor (you ;).

The advice I got from you--both times--I took and embraced it wholeheartedly, because once I thought about my manuscript, I realized you were spot-on when it came to all suggestions.

When it comes to my writing critique group, if all of them feel the same (a weak beginning, a confusing part, etc.) I trust the suggestion. However, if only one thinks something and the others don't, I will consider the suggestion but not necessarily act upon it.

Great post as usual.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

The suggestion for how to take critique group advice is the exact way I follow it too. Most of the time when my critique group says something, I already knew it was true and was just hoping no one else would notice so I wouldn't have to work so hard at revising it. HAHAHAHA! I always think two opinions or more are good for any piece of writing.

Nicole: Great suggestion--only give advice on a good day. I like that.

Sue: Yes, that's true, some standardized test writing has rules like that too, but I consider those to be "special" and for a certain audience and purpose. So I would, of course, listen to those rules.

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments!

5:22 PM  
Anonymous KAlan said...

Margo, you're right that there is so much bad advice out there. I think the problem isn't spotting when it's bad, though; I think the problem is knowing when it comes from those with power in the industry. Opportunities for writers are so sparse that we almost have to follow bad advice just to give ourselves a chance.

An example: an editor at one of the Big Five recently told me to change all my characters so that they would be less 'extreme.' This is in a comedic adventure that just begs for 'extreme' characters, but what could I do? I put in the work to make the changes. (Ironically, this editor then responded that she was leaving her job at the publishing house, but that's a bit non-sequitur.)

So, the question may be less about how to spot bad advice than it is about when to follow it anyway....

6:16 PM  

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