The internet is full of good writing advice. I like to think I contribute to that at least a little bit here on this blog, but I know it’s all subjective. One person’s good advice can just as easily be another person’s bad advice.
And with that in mind, here is some of the writing advice I’ve heard in the last couple of years that doesn’t work for me at all.
(Bad?) Idea # 1. Set up a blog and post a page of your novel every day until it’s finished.
On the surface, this might not sound like a bad idea. But it is for a couple of reasons. First, and most obviously, if you do this most agents and editors will consider your novel published (or self-published) and you’ll have an even more difficult time trying to get it published traditionally.
Another problem with this idea lies in the format of blogs. It’s standard to put the newest post at the top. This is fine for someone who reads the novel every day as new posts come out, but it’s difficult for a loyal reader who might fall a few days behind. People don’t like to accidentally read ahead and the risk of that happening is pretty high when the newest post is at the top of the blog and they have to skim down the page to get to the place they left off.
This also brings in the problem of new readers who might discover the novel half way through. The blog must be set up in a way where it’s easy to find the beginning of the novel and not too complicated to quickly skim through the pages and get up to speed.
Finally, if you’re considering doing blogging your book, there are some other factors to think about. Is the book finished or would it be posted as it’s written? If it’s “as written,” then you’re basically revealing your first draft to the world. Are you prepared to do that? If you’re posting the book in real time, it will not be easy to go back and fix major problems once things are posted. If you’re posting a finished novel a page at a time on a blog, that’s different, but the same problems I mentioned earlier would still remain. In my opinion, you’d be better seeking an agent or self publishing your novel as a novel. Not as a blog.
This next one might be a bit controversial, but before you get too worked up about it, remember it’s just one guy’s opinion…
(Bad?) Idea # 2. Form a writer’s group and have them critique the same piece of work on a weekly basis for an indefinite period of time.
This is the worst. This idea stemmed from one of the “upper level” college creative writing courses I took as an undergrad. The focus of the class was not so much writing as it was revising. We were to spend the entire semester with the same group of 4-5 people working on one short story. Every week, we’d present the “latest” revision of the story to the group and discuss how the revision made it better.
Not only was this a completely useless activity, it really taught us nothing about writing or revising. I know this is unpopular to say, but sometimes the second revision is the best. So why keep going after that?
But that’s not the worst part of this method of revising. The worst part is that since the same people are reading the same story every week, you, as the writer, are losing a very vital type of feedback in the process. You’re missing out on first time readers. Once you’ve published your story, nearly 100% of the people who read your work will read it once, so I really believe the most important feedback you can get from a critique group is from the first time they see your work.
I think it’s an incredible waste of a critique group to have people read your story over and over again. Have them read it once after you’re ready for feedback and then maybe one more time before you submit it to a publisher. And that’s it. Any more times than that and your critique group is no longer critiquing your story; they’re critiquing what they want your story to be instead.
I know that every writer views the revision and critiquing process differently. Find what works for you, but whatever you do, don’t take that advice from the college English professor that tells you to have your critique group involved with every aspect of your creative process. Group writing does nothing other than kill the individual’s creativity and in the worst case scenario, it will destroy the story.
(Bad?) Idea # 3: Set a fixed minimum word count that you have to reach every day.
When you’re a new writer, you need to experiment, improve, and find out what works best. You can’t do that if all you’re focused on is reaching an arbitrary word count. Racing everyday for word count is great in November. It’s not great the rest of the year when quality is what you should be working for. We actually did a podcast on this very topic that you should listen to if you’d like to what other types of goals you can set as a writer.
I also think the idea of writing to a word count can set you up for failure. When you’re just getting into something and settling into a routine, you need to see daily progress. You need to set daily goals and reach them. If your primary goal is an arbitrary number, then when something beyond your control gets in the way of that number, you fail. What happens when you’re new at something and you fail too many times? Well, most people get discouraged and a lot of them quit.
What I think is better is to set daily goals based on what you plan to work on, how much time you have, and what kind of deadlines are ahead. If a market you plan to submit to is closing in three weeks, then by all means set some daily word count minimums to have it ready in a week and a half so you have time to edit. If you only have 30 minutes to write, then set an appropriate goal for that: maybe outline a new story or browse a market listing for some potential places to send some work.
So to close things out, I hope you didn’t get too many negative vibes from me in this post. I’m not writing this with the idea of putting down any other writers and what might work for them. These three things just don’t work for me. My only intention was to show you why they don’t work for me and why I don’t think they’d work for you.
It was fun trying something a little different again and if you’d like to share any other bad writing advice (or tell me why I’m wrong about these) feel free to leave a comment.