Advice to Ruin Your Writing Career

There is little more poisonous to a burgeoning writing career than the wrong advice.

I was discussing this topic with my writing group the other day.

Being regular consumers of indie author books and podcasts, we were perplexed by pieces of advice that didn’t sit right with our collective experiences.

I have no doubt the authors in question imparted these nuggets of advice in good faith — having been crucial to their own journeys — but when they fly in the face of more commonly spoken advice, they can be quite damaging.

Especially to newer authors.

Here, then, are the worst bits of writing advice I’ve heard or read, and followed, over the years.

“Don’t worry about editing”

The logic here, supposedly, is that the quantity of books you publish is more important than the quality — that is, you should get as many out there as quickly as you can.

I am somewhat of a grammar zealot, so even the slightest misplaced comma or missing apostrophe or misused homophone sets my teeth on edge.

However, if a story narrative has me in thrall or the plot is so engaging that I lose track of time, I will overlook the odd grammatical transgression.

Too many, though, and my reading brain rebels.

I once had what I thought was a beautifully polished story professionally proofread, and the proofreader returned the manuscript with over a hundred errors (including a grossly misspelled character name).

I managed to avert disaster for that story, but if I’d read it as a published story, I would have hated it.

Too many errors will pull your readers from your story.

In terms of damage to a fledgling author (especially to an indie author), the lack of a good edit can cost you readers, smother your online presence in bad reviews and destroy your confidence.

You should always ensure your work has another pair of eyes read through it — someone whose eye you can trust or whose professional detachment you can afford.

“You have to use [shiny new product]”

Indie publishing is seemingly rife with the latest tools and services and gadgets to help authors.

And many indie authors are born again converts for these products.

But just because it works well for them, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’ll work for everyone.

A few years back, upon the advice of a very successful indie author podcast, I tried my hand at an extremely popular piece of writing software.

The podcast convinced me there was no other way to write stories, that I was wasting my time using anything else.

By all accounts, as I soon discovered, this piece of software has rather a steep learning curve — one that I was too impatient to climb.

And so I failed to adopt it — and, by extension therefore, failed to take my craft seriously.

I beat myself up for a very long time over this.

It took me years, in fact, to come to the realisation that the toolset doesn’t matter.

Whatever I am comfortable using is the best thing for getting words on the page or screen.

It’s fine to explore the latest fad-as-a-service — I mean, even pen and paper was bleeding edge technology once upon a time — but you don’t need to let it define you as a writer.

Your success as an author does not live or die by your success to take up this shiny new thing.

“You must write every day”

This one is a bug bear of mine.

The idea is that if you want to be a successful author, you must find time every day to get words down.

This is complete bullshit.

So many authors proffer this as gospel, it can be difficult to believe otherwise — I certainly followed it with religious fervour, when I heard it.

And for a time, I managed it — even if it was only a couple of lines a day.

But life happens, obstacles do what obstacles do.

I missed the odd day here and there, then a few in a row, then a week, then more — before I knew it, I was caught in a creative black hole.

Once again, I exacerbated the problem by beating myself up for failing to take my craft seriously enough.

I understand why so many in the industry advocate this advice — it’s about learning to develop a sound writing habit, something to see you through those periods when the muse is not whispering in your ear.

But seriously, there are days when it just won’t happen, no matter how hard you try to force it.

And that is perfectly okay.

You are allowed to take time off from writing — to relax, to cogitate, to zone out, to brainstorm, and most especially to read.

I, personally, produce a higher quality of work by not writing every day.

I think, therefore, a sounder and more sustainable writing habit is one that gives you a break from work.

Most authors are enamoured with, maybe even surprised by, their creative process.

I mean, we create characters and worlds and situations of such texture and vividness and complexity and beauty — what’s not to love?

The truth is there are as many ways to create stories as there are stories.

No one way to do so is definitive.

So, by all means, listen to the advice of other authors — but remember to take their advice (including mine!) with a very large pinch of salt.

Write your stories however you want to.

And if that means using a very popular piece of story writing software on a religiously daily basis and never letting an editor set eyes on them, so be it.

Whatever works for you.

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