Top 10 Worst Writerly Advice

By Julie Kazimer

Over my 13 years of writing, I’ve heard plenty of advice, some good, some bad. At first I sucked it all in, trying to please everyone. That lasted until I learned my voice and some craft. Now I pick and choose the advice I use, and for once, I feel comfortable in my own writerly skin. Here’s some of the bad advice I received throughout my career:

10) Avoid all adverbs. This seems to be a standard line from writers. While I don’t disagree that when using an adverb you might be weakening your verb or even telling rather than showing, but more importantly, the advice is crap because no writer should avoid all of anything. If your story calls for an adverb, it calls for an adverb. Use it. You surely won’t spontaneously combust.

9) Literary writing is the only way to be respected as a writer. In many circles this is true. I’ve spent five years in academia fighting this bias. But at the end of the day, no matter what you write, you must respect your own work, be it literary, poetry, erotica, mystery or romance. Don’t let others define you.

8) “Your writing is too campy. It won’t ever sell.” Yep. I heard this multiple times during my stint in jail, I mean, critique group. Just because your style doesn’t fit someone else, doesn’t mean either of you are less of a writer and/or have less of a chance of selling that work. Just as an FYI, all those campy novels, I sold, including the one that started my career.

7) Commercial fiction is about plot, literary is character-based. Ha! Every book you pen should be about both things. Readers want to see a character change, grow, and fully flawed. But they also want a character who does more than stare out the window and internally do all those things.

6) Traditional publishing is the only way to be respected as an author. Now this one’s a bit sticky. In a way, other authors are still not as accepting, or even a little disrespectful of, indie publication, even those who make millions. But you know what? Readers could care less. They don’t know who is an indie author and who is a traditional one (unless, of course, the editing is very bad). Seven years ago I used to believe in this hierarchy of traditional over indie authors, but now I find the whole idea ridiculous. Which bring me to the next bit of advice:

5) More books published makes you a better writer than someone who hasn’t published any yet. Is the guy who wins the lottery a better financial wizard than you? That’s almost like comparing Dina Lohan to Mother Theresa for mother of the year.

4) Write what you know. If that was true or good advice would we have Star Wars? Or any book interesting enough to read? Reading is an escape. We don’t want to read what we know. We want what we don’t know, what surprises us, what entertains us. On the other hand, we want to be able to believe what an author writes is genuine. If it doesn’t fit what we ‘know’ than your reader will have a harder time accepting it. So write what you think your reader knows or maybe what you know or some weird variation. Heck, write anything you want. I’m not the writerly police. Imagination should never be handcuffed by others’ expectations.

3) Focus on building a readership with social media, websites and blogs. Yes, all very important, once you have a book finished. Until then, focus on writing the best damn book you can. That will get you a readership (hopefully). Or maybe it won’t, but either way, you will have a book you’re proud of.

2) You have control over your career. I wish. You don’t. You have control over what you write, when you write, how much you market, if you should self-publish or traditionally publish. But you have no control over what happens beyond that. You can’t make people love your book. You can’t make people give you awards. You can’t make people give you money, unless you hit them with your kindle.

1) Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Worst advice there is. Books are most often first judged by their cover. Covers can make or break a book. Trust me, I know. I had a very hard time getting distribution to bookstores and engagement because of two frogs having a good time on the cover. Even though it is the best cover ever, it also made it more difficult to promote. Colors also are proven to affect sales. Green for instance has a lower rate of sales. Interesting, right?

Oh, and one last one. Kill Your Darlings. I really don’t suggest this. You will spend time in prison, plus, what’s your sweetheart really ever done to you?

What’s some bad advice you’ve gotten? Did you follow it?

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming romance, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

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About Julie Kazimer

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. Books include The Junkie Tales, The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, SHANK, Froggy Style: A F***ed Up Fairy Tale and The Assassin's Heart. She is currently working on a new fairy tale mystery for Kensington Books titled The Fairyland Murders.

14 thoughts on “Top 10 Worst Writerly Advice

  1. Julie Luek

    Julie, as a relatively new writer, sometimes I read all the many many blogs and articles on writing rules and feel overwhelmed. They can be such joy-suckers! I love how you turned a few of these on their head and at the heart, reminded us all to follow, well, our hearts!

    Reply
  2. Phyllis Neher

    Hi, Julie!!
    Um, #8 I disagree!! Your writing is not campy!!!
    As far as adverbs are concerned, the best advice I received was not to overuse them and make sure you actually need them. No mater what, always take a good second look at them and see if they are actually necessary, because sometimes they are (most times not). They can add emphasis if placed well and they can add a needed beat. The danger becomes when they are overused because they can be a sign of lazy writing. It takes work to find the right verb, etc. Bottom line, they can be a handy tool if you know how to use them. Balance!!

    Reply
  3. Patricia Stoltey

    I’ve followed all those rules at various times over the years, Julie, plus the one about using the five senses on every page of my manuscript (slows pacing in thrillers) and avoiding passive language (which works brilliantly for certain POV characters). The older I get, the more I enjoy ignoring the rules. And I often choose books by their covers, too..

    Reply
        1. Julie Kazimer

          Which is why you will live a very long and happy, abet confused, writerly life. I always listen to Pat too. She knows her stuff.

          Reply
  4. Matthew Boroson

    “All villains should be sympathetic.” I heard variants on this so often that I just took it to heart. Didn’t question it until I heard a well-known author say it, in different words, and then a few seconds later she said “you want readers to hate them and root for their downfall.” That stopped me in my tracks. Because I don’t hate anyone I feel sympathy towards. I don’t root for their downfall; I root for their redemption. So I made a list of my favorite villains, twenty of them, and found only four whom I would label “sympathetic.”

    Reply

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