Worst and Best Writing Advice of 2013

2013 was really a pretty major change for me.  I walked away mid-year from two writing message boards I had been on for years because so much of the bad advice was polluting my writing in a major way.  I also stopped reading a lot of writing advice blogs.  I still read some, but I’m very picky about what I do read.

So what was the best and worst advice of the year?

Worst Advice:

You must outline.  

This is one of the things I consistently heard variations of on the message boards.  I’m a pantser and when people hear that, they tend to treat me like I’m broken or my stories are so totally messed up they will never get published.


But over the last year, I tossed out most of the writing advice I’d seen and followed my instincts.  Once I did that, I could see how many writing how-tos and advice out assumes you’re outlining or applies outlining techniques to fix pantsing issues.  Another writer told me that the skills do cross over, but she was also a writer who preferred outlining but could write without an outline.  So she would have been more comfortable with the outlining techniques to start with.  From the side of the extreme pantser, I saw NO skills cross over. It was really eye opening when I took workshops from pantsers and saw how different the approach was.

Best Advice:

Trust the process.

This has been the hardest thing for me, but it gets easier as I work on it more.  Being a pantser at times is scary because I really can’t see where I’m going.  I don’t know how the story is going to end, and sometimes I’m tempted to try to figure that out (a piece of outlining advice that sneaks in).  But I’ve also really wrecked stories doing that.  I’d end up writing to the ending and not in the direction the story needed to go.

It’s also where all the message boards and blogs created issues.  Every piece of advice seems to assume you’re doing it wrong and advises you not to trust yourself.  I remember asking a writer on a blog for help on a long-standing problem and she berated me — writing unseen — for not using character worksheets like she did.  (Characterization and story are my strengths.)  It turned out the problem was using outliner techniques that didn’t work for me in combination with not trusting that my process would produce what I needed.

Both the best and worst advice was why I walked away from message boards and most blogs.  Sometimes you’re not doing it wrong. Sometimes what people are telling you is wrong.

What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve seen this year?

2 thoughts on “Worst and Best Writing Advice of 2013

  1. The best writing advice I saw this year was Dean Wesley Smith’s summary of how to approach indie pub and P.C. Wrede’s series on different plot shapes—with good reminders that the whole three-act triangle has its place but hardly is the whole of literature.

    But if the only shape you are aware of is the triangle, you aren’t likely to spot the missing bead, and you’re likely to spend loads of time trying to build things up to a peak or turning point that doesn’t belong on a circle or wheel or spiral…or at least, that doesn’t solve the plot-problem that has pulled the circle out of alignment. Fixing the wrong thing never helps, and usually makes things worse.

    This much is fairly obvious. But then I thought a bit more, and it occurred to me that understanding shapes and possible shapes of stories is really useful at the other end of the process, too – that is, during the development and prewriting stage. Because some ideas are better suited to one plot-shape than to others.

    Uses for Plot Shapes by P C Wrede

    My advice to fiction writers starting out for 2014:

    1) Spend 80% of your focus and time on producing new fiction. Not rewriting, not researching, but producing new words on the page. Period. (Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.)

    2) Spend 15% of your time on learning craft and business. Both a little at a time. In any way you can. We do a lot of business workshops here besides craft workshops. So do other major fiction writers.

    3) Spend the remaining 5% of your time mailing finished work to editors or getting your work up indie published or both. (The #5 path above I believe in 2014 is the best if you have the courage, but most won’t try it.)

    4) Think five and ten years out and set production goals. (Not selling goals, you are not in charge of those, but you are in charge of your own production and how much you learn.)

    How to Get Started Selling in 2014 by Dean Wesley Smith

    Worst? There was so much I couldn’t pick, but it all generally fell into promoting the myths of indie publishing: in short, that indie publishing is inferior and that we could kill our careers by putting out a work that is less than perfect and are tainting everyone’s bucket by not revising a minimum of three times and spending a year on our book. Or the general idea that “this” is how it works—no exceptions. I apparently can hardly stand the “no exceptions” line because in almost all cases of anything, that is just patently untrue. There are always exceptions.


    1. Commentary on indie was also one of the other things on the message boards that bothered me. A lot of people simply condemned it as if the writer wasn’t good enough to be professionally published and had given up. No one thought of it as a business decision or a way to get more published.


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