The worst writing advice I ever received

Caution ahead
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If you’ve ever thought about writing and intrepidly googled writing advice, chances are you got a whole lot of hits. Writing seems to be a subject that a lot of people have opinions about. After all, if you’ve read a book, chances are you have opinions about it, even if you’ve never written one yourself.

A lot of writing advice is really good, but a lot of it it, well, isn’t. Or maybe it’s good, but doesn’t fit you personally. Here’s some advice that I’ve received through the years that, if I’d followed it, would have killed my interest in writing pretty damn quickly.

You should write something more moral

Okay, when I got this comment, it wasn’t phrased quite as above, more like “what you’ve written is morally offensive”.

My comment: Decide yourself what’s moral for you and write that—no one else can define it for you. If some subjects make you uncomfortable, well, you don’t have to write them. But don’t hold back because they’re subjects someone else is uncomfortable with either.

The grain of truth: Reading is subjective, and some people might read messages into your work that you never intended. If you receive feedback along these lines, you need to decide on your own whether to address that in your revisions.

You should write something based on your own life

This, I’m convinced, would bore me to death. I’m already living my life, I’d rather explore other things! Strange places, different cultures, quirky characters, stormy relationships…

My comment: Write what you’re passionate about.

The grain of truth: Infusing your writing with something you’ve personally experienced can give it a lot of power. E.g. Before and After the Wedding takes place in Italy, where I used to live a few years back, and I of course drew on a lot of my own experiences of the setting and culture, even if the story itself is completely made up.

And, of course, lots of people are happily writing memoirs.

You should write something funny/suspenseful/literary, …

Or in other words, the type of stuff the person advising you would love to read.

My comment: Write what interests you, not someone else, even if that something is the ‘next big thing’. Writing a book will take a lot of work—make sure you have fun doing it!

The grain of truth: If you write something weird, it might be more difficult to find an audience, in which case you need to decide how much that matters to you. (What you write might also turn out to be the next big thing, of course, but the odds aren’t in your favor…)


I guess it all boils down to knowing and trusting yourself. Not a bad rule to apply in all sorts of areas in life. 🙂


(If you’re not sure what you want to write, check out this article on how to write a novel you want to read.)

2 thoughts on “The worst writing advice I ever received

  • May 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I always hated hearing “Write what you know.” My life is boring why do I want to write about that? Besides I write fantasy so I can make stuff up and have magic around. But there is some grain of truth in that advice. While I don’t want to write about being a wedding director because I planned my own wedding. I can give my characters life by going through the motions and have the fun of looking at pretty dresses and tasting cakes anytime.

    But I still want my dragons and castles in my stories. (and my movies…why yes Maleficient comes out in a week and a half. What’s not love with faeries, magic, dragons, castles and I hope a Prince?)

    • May 25, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      I think it can be very interesting to read about “specialist” knowledge, which really can be anything from what it’s like to be a plummer to a president. If you’re motivated to write about it of course–me, currently not so much.


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