Budgie’s Journal #79 – Bad Writing Advice

I follow a lot of writers and writing advice accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and this one piece of advice pops up daily: 

To be a better writer, read and write more.

That’s it. It’s always worded different or put in front of a different meme, but it’s always around, every day. Read and write more and you’ll become a better writer.

I’m here today to tell you that’s bullshit.

Maybe that’s a bit too harsh. I’ll leave it at “simplistic at best”, an extreme watered down version of a concept taken directly from On Writing by Stephen King (which is where I suspect most of the writing advice online comes from without attributing him). I would never tell anyone, especially a writer, not to read. What I would say is: “read out of your comfort zone”. If your comfortable reading, then it’s too easy.

Re-reading the Harry Potter or Twilight books won’t help you. If you like sci-fi books, then those won’t help either. Go to the library and get a card (they’re free). Then take out books at random an actually read them. Find an old book from a long dead author you’ve never heard of. Grab a biography of a president you know little about. Read a romance about a horse farmer. Pick up a self-help book addressing a problem you don’t have. This is what you need to do if you want to improve your creative power.

You know what, go back to Harry Potter anyway. Re-read it again, but take notes on how JK Rowling expertly spun the tale, foreshadowing, using almost one character for the entire POV of the series. And see how she sculpted the story in all seven parts.

And then get that library card.

Writing more when you’re a bad writer won’t help you write better. It will just help you write more bad stories. What you should be focusing on is improving your plot, structure, dialogue, and grammar. That’s where most indie writing falls short. Simply telling a writer who’s struggling to write more is like telling someone who’s drowning to try flailing more.

And do your research. Colin aka @lowericon posted this tweet today:

The point: if you’re writing a medieval fantasy piece read up on horses, armor, archery, etcetera. Don’t count on Google to give you the highlights. Apply as needed. 

Get some grammar reference books. Buy them and keep them on hand. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a must have, recommended across the board. The aforementioned On Writing by Stephen King is another great one. The book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss is both entertaining and a great grammar tool. I suggest you read these often.

Dialogue is important too. Practice it by talking and listening. I won’t talk about this at length now because I have an upcoming piece about this in the works for this week. Look out for it (tomorrow probably).

Write small, flash fiction or short stories. Let them sit for a month and re-read them, keeping in mind that not everything you write is fit to be published or posted.

I’ll end this with the ever important beta reader. I’ve talked about this many times, but I’m adding a twist: find someone who you know will dislike your writing. Find someone who isn’t your friend. Let them tell you that you suck and why you suck. Let it sink into your thick skull. Then dry your tears, thank them, and grow from it.

If you can’t take the last part, then you’re done. Don’t bother. You’re not a writer if you can’t take your lumps like we all do.

That’s it. I’m spent after that. I’m not sorry either. It needed to be said, even though I’m sure anyone who will benefit from this won’t read it. Hopefully I can touch a few minds and give some slightly better advice than “read and write more”.

-Budgie Bigelow

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