Terrible Writing Advice – 23 Myths and Mistakes to Avoid

P.J McNulty
March 26, 2021 | 11 mins

Any author is bound to read a lot of terrible writing advice.

The kind of advice that makes you feel inferior.

The kind that makes you feel you'll never be ‘good enough' to get your work out there.

But don't feel disheartened!

Instead of giving up and letting your writing dreams die, here are 23 better perspectives.

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1 – Write whenever you can fit it in

If you’re like many writers, you were probably guilty of this mistake, at least when you first started writing. 

Most writing careers start out more like hobbies. You feel very passionate about writing, but see it as less important than other things in your life. If you can fit it in, great. But it often isn’t a priority. 

This approach is fine for people looking to write on a casual basis. But if you’re reading this, that probably isn’t you.

You should instead make a writing routine that works for you. Block out a dedicated time for focused writing work. If something unavoidable crops up, reschedule it. 

2 – Don’t share your work until it is perfect

It’s natural to feel a little insecure or uncertain about your writing. 

After all, our craft is deeply personal. The thought of others reading and judging your work might make you strive for perfection before putting anything out into the world. 

As understandable as this idea is, it’s also deeply mistaken. Your work will never be perfect. But it can be improved! 

However, that improvement only occurs when you come out of your comfort zone and get feedback. Bite the bullet and get your work out there. It will benefit you immensely. 

3 – Make your first writing project a novel

Becoming a novelist is probably the ultimate goal for most creative writers.

But while this might be your ultimate aim, it isn’t necessarily the best place to start.

You might find it better to start by working on your craft skills and building up to bigger projects. Methodically learn and practice different elements of writing until you feel confident enough to take things further.

After you feel comfortable enough with your craft, consider writing articles, short stories, and novellas. These are great ways of training for a full novel. 

4 – Multitask while working

There’s nothing worse for deeply creative work than being distracted. 

Trying to make progress on your word count while your attention is being dragged in every other direction is a nightmare.

A lot of writers suggest fully turning off your phone while you write, but that of course isn’t possible for everyone. If you need to be available for an emergency, consider only allowing certain notifications through. 

You don't need to write in total silence or isolation though unless that's what you prefer. Writing in a cafe might boost your creativity. Just stay on task, wherever you happen to be!

5 – Copy the routines of your favorite writers

It's interesting to learn about the habits, routines, and lifestyles of your favorite writers. But that doesn't mean you need to copy them verbatim.

What works for someone else might not work for you. Instead, use famous writing routines as ideas to test. But don’t stick with them if you find you aren’t getting the results you hoped for. 

The best way forward is to try different things until you settle on your bespoke writing routine. Even then, don't be afraid to mix things up as needed. 

6 – Use your normal writing app 

Unlike a lot of creative pursuits, writing has the advantage of not requiring expensive equipment to get started. Great authors need nothing more than a pen and paper to practice their craft.

But, just because you can write with almost anything, it doesn’t mean you should.

Plenty of specialist writing tools and apps exist with special features that go above and beyond regular word processors. Take the time to explore your writing software options and settle on the one that’s the best fit for your needs and budget. 

7 – Your writing exists in isolation

Sometimes, there’s a kind of romantic notion that writers are capable of working on nothing but inspiration and coffee. 

The reality of the situation is that everything about your physical and mental state impacts your work. Being rested, calm, and hydrated all play a part in being able to write well. 

If you’re finding it difficult to write, check in with yourself. Do you need a mental break? A glass of water? A walk outside?

Over time, you'll learn the external factors that affect your work the most and learn how to get in your zone of peak performance. 

8 – Writing is an innate talent 

Too many people see writing ability as something you either do or don’t have. 

While certain people may be more inclined towards writing than others, absolutely everyone is capable of improving, no matter their starting skill level. 

Don’t use this myth as an excuse to avoid working. Instead, accept that writing is a learnable skill like any other. Make a plan to improve your weak points rather than blaming things on a lack of innate ability. 

9 – Write with other forms of media in mind

Some writers write with a focus on what their words might eventually become.

If your dream is to have your work adapted, this might be a sensible approach. But even then it’s often the wrong way to go. Most great books are adapted because they are amazing stories. Not because they were written with the screen in mind.

When you write, you should only ever orient your words towards your intended reader. Make your book perfect for them. If it’s good enough, other forms of media might well take notice. 

10 – Spend every available minute writing 

Let’s face it. If you love writing, it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. There’s nothing quite like getting into a flow state and making serious progress on a project. 

But if you write too often, you run the risk of several problems. You might burn out and lose your love of the craft. You will almost certainly find that your quality suffers after some time. 

Instead, it’s best to balance writing with other activities. Make time for reading and anything that stimulates your mind and replenishes your creativity. 

11 – Don’t write for anyone other than yourself 

There’s an elitist point of view out there that suggests writing with a market in mind is somehow sleazy or wrong. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no harm at all in identifying a group of readers you want to serve and writing with them in mind. 

The only time this advice is kind of true is when there’s a total mismatch between your interests and your writing. If you have no interest or enthusiasm for your subject, your work is bound to suffer. 

12 – Write from the perspective of any character you can imagine

This is a controversial tip related to fiction writing. It’s important to understand both sides of the debate here.

On the one hand, a lot of people have the view that pure creative freedom overrides everything else. Writers should have total liberty to step into the shoes of anyone they can imagine.

On the other hand, it can be problematic when writers try to showcase cultures, ethnicities, or sexualities other than their own. There are ways of doing it, but it should be treated with immense sensitivity. 

This isn't to say that some types of characters are fully off limits to you. Instead, think carefully about your characters and how to portray them in the most sensitive way possible. 

13 – You need a formal writing education before beginning 

A large portion of the writing world is still based around snobbery and elitism. 

While it’s true that some people will only take your work seriously if you have a certain type of formal writing education, you really shouldn’t worry about these people at all. 

Learning how to write well is incredibly important. It’s something you should never stop pursuing. But that doesn’t have to happen in a formal context. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

14 – Don’t take any days off

Have you come across the ‘hustle culture’? 

It’s popular on social media and implies that any time not pursuing your goals is wasted time.

That’s pretty much nonsense. Even in a conventional work setting, it’s been shown that working fewer days doesn’t lead to a drop in productivity. 

If you want to write each day, by all means, do it. But don't be afraid to take time off whenever you feel you should. It's more likely to refresh and inspire your writing than harm it. Just don't take time off to the extent that your overall writing goals suffer. 

15 – Avoid writing genre fiction

This piece of terrible advice, like a lot of others on the list, comes from nothing but snobbery. 

Some fiction authors think only literary writing is worthy of praise. Genre fiction is somehow unworthy of being considered good writing.

This is so untrue. Some of the most enjoyable books out there fall into the category of genre fiction. 

If you want to write this type of fiction, go ahead. Have fun and don’t worry about what the critics say.

16 – Use whichever tone you prefer 

One of the fastest ways for good writing to be badly received is by taking the wrong tone. 

It’s important to match your tone to what your readers expect. While you should always write in your authentic voice, you should be capable of expressing this in different tones. 

The fastest way to get a feel for the right tone is to read examples of the best work in that genre. Identify as many commonalities as possible. Can you authentically hit that tone in your own voice? Unless you can, it’s probably not the best type of writing for you to pursue. 

17 – Only write if you feel genuine passion

Is it good to have an overall passion for writing? Absolutely. Are you going to feel passionate every time you write? Absolutely not!

If you limit yourself to writing when you feel moments of peak passion, you probably won’t get a lot done. 

Sometimes, writing will feel like a grind. That’s OK. Nothing feels good all of the time.

When you make your peace with the fact that you won’t always feel passionate about your writing, you are more likely to be able to write no matter how you feel at the time. 

18 – Write without worrying about marketing 

While you shouldn’t let your writing be dictated by marketing, you also shouldn’t treat it as an afterthought. 

Thinking about the readers you will market to, and how you will delight them, can inspire and inform your writing. 

For example, visual marketing elements like your book cover might inspire the content of your words. You might choose chapter titles with marketing in mind. 

Marketing should never be the main driving force behind your book. But it also shouldn't be ignored. Strike a balance to achieve the best results for your work. 

19 – Spend all your time talking about being a writer on social media

OK, this is a little bit sarcastic. 

But if you’ve spent a lot of time around the writing world you’ll know it’s not entirely untrue.

Sadly, it seems like a lot of writers love the identity of being a writer more than the actual process of writing. 

There's no harm in smartly using social media to form connections and promote your work. But only if the majority of your effort and energy is spent on actually writing!

20 – Avoid referencing pop culture 

Some writers get given the advice that they should never reference anything contemporary in their work. 

This stems from not wanting a book to seem dated to future audiences. But is it always true?

It depends entirely on the objective of your book. If you’re writing fiction and you want your story to seem timeless, this tip makes sense. But if you want it to have a definite sense of time, references from that period help.

With nonfiction, similar advice applies. If you want to write a book about productivity that will be relevant for decades, talking about today’s technology probably isn’t a great approach. But if you want to speak to the readers of today, rather than the future, focusing on contemporary references doesn’t hurt at all.  

21 – There’s only one way to write

You should always be wary of people who claim to know the one true path towards anything. That includes writing.

Writers come in all shapes and sizes. We have different personalities. What is a good fit for someone else might not be a good fit for you.

For example, it might be true that a lot of incredible writers worked first thing in the morning. But plenty also worked at night!

While there isn’t one best way for everyone, there probably is a best way for you. Find your perfect writing location, routine, and tool. Don’t worry about what other people say. 

22 – Never give up on a writing project

Have you ever come across the myth that giving up on a writing project is somehow failing?

In truth, it’s sometimes the right option to quit and give up on a project entirely. If you’re not making progress, or it doesn’t serve your goals anymore, you shouldn’t complete it just for the sake of doing so. 

That’s not to say you should stop as soon as it gets difficult. But if a particular project no longer serves your overall aims, don’t be afraid to divert your energy elsewhere. 

23 – Don’t ever use adverbs or diverse dialogue tags 

This is one of the most commonly repeated pieces of fiction writing advice out there. 

While the core idea is true, it shouldn’t be taken so extremely. 

Too many adverbs or dialogue tags other than said are distracting and annoying. But used sparingly they can enhance your work. Just be conscious about their purpose and keep them to a minimum. 

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People DO judge books by their covers. Grab a quick checklist to make sure your cover gets the attention of your audience.

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