Writing Advice We Wish Would Go Away

I mentioned in last week’s blog that I asked some of my writing and publishing friends to tell me what one “writing rule” they’d like to see go away…forever. Many cited the timeworn, “Write what you know” (see here).

Others, however, gave different but similarly helpful answers.

Author, speaker, and writers conference director Lin Johnson said, “I heard this often in my early freelance days and still hear it from writing teachers: ‘You must write every day, even if it’s for only fifteen minutes.’ Not everyone, including me, works well with short periods of writing time. Better advice: Write regularly.”

Author, musician, and writing instructor Terry White cited the following as writing wisdom he’d like to see go away—forever: “You can save money by having a friend who teaches English edit your book for you.”

Novelist and writers conference director DiAnn Mills wants to bury this piece of advice: “There are two kinds of novels: character-driven and plot-driven.” “Wrong!” she says. “All quality stories are character-driven. It’s all about the character who struggles to achieve a goal while growing into a better person.”

Agent and publisher Dan Balow cited the line, “Anyone can write a book!” as advice that needs to go away, permanently, adding, “The truth is just the opposite; few people can write books well.”

Author, writers conference director, and Word Weavers International president Eva Marie Everson, said, “Write without a plan” is advice that needs to go away. “I think you need a plan. You need an outline. You need to know where the story is going and what you’re going to do with it. It makes writing so much easier, plus, when folks say, ‘Why did your character do that?,’ you’ve got an answer.”

Author, speaker, and TV host Rhonda Rhea loves to hate the advice, “Write like no one is going to read it.” She said, “Wha…? If no one is reading it, why am I writing it? Even when I write a prayer, I have a triune Audience. Doesn’t the whole ‘write just for me-me-me’ thing produce self-ety-self-self-self-centered writing? Or maybe it’s just me. Me. Me. Me.”

Self-styled “Author/Speaker/Threat-to-society” James N. Watkins recalled the frequent advice, “Discover the tone of a periodical and then write in that style.” In his typically subdued way, he said, “WRONG! You need be true to your own voice. Send out rejection slips to publishers: ‘I’m sorry but you don’t suit my editorial needs at this time.’”

Agent and publisher Steve Laube (full disclosure: he has to approve this blog post) answered with a list:

“Do things my way. It is the best way.” (There is more than one way to craft a book.)

“You must master all forms of social media.” (Including Tinder? See this list of all currently available social networking sites.)

“Write for the crossover market.” (As if there is such a thing. Please point out the “crossover section” on Amazon.com for me.)

“Stay away from traditional publishers, they are all crooks.” or “If you sign a traditional contract you are an idiot.” (As if it is an all or nothing proposition.)

And, finally, Jerry Jenkins, New York Times #1 bestselling author, said that he’d like to do away with “any piece of advice that comes across as an absolute. ‘Never do this,’ ‘Always do this,’ ‘No one is publishing this,’ ‘It’s too long,’ ‘It’s too short.’ The only absolute you should embrace? Great writing trumps all the rules.”


28 Responses to Writing Advice We Wish Would Go Away

  1. Kristi Woods October 11, 2017 at 5:30 am #

    “Great writing trumps all the rules” – wonderful way to send us off into Wednesday, Bob. I found myself smiling through many of these, a glitter of hope on the writing horizon, perhaps.

  2. Damon J. Gray October 11, 2017 at 5:43 am #

    These are just excellent, and sadly, I have been told, or read better than half of those. Even in my neophyte state, they make me cringe.

  3. Mary-Anne October 11, 2017 at 6:12 am #

    Thank you Steve. Your blog was most informative.

    • Bob Hostetler October 11, 2017 at 7:59 am #

      Steve always writes the best blog posts. 🙂

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 11, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    Bob, I always enjoy and learn from your blogs. This one not only taught me about rules but it also made me smile. Thanks for the information and for the wonderful way you present it.

  5. Karen Saari October 11, 2017 at 6:28 am #

    Some bad advice never goes away, because there are those who still think it’s good advice and they are still teaching. Your bad advice column was good advice, thank you!

  6. Sheriena McEvers October 11, 2017 at 6:59 am #

    It seems to me as a reader that writing needs one thing – it needs to grip the heart and not let it go until the end. At least that is my goal as I attempt to write a book, and as I blog.

    • Bob Hostetler October 11, 2017 at 8:03 am #

      Thanks so much for the comment, Sheriena.

  7. Dave Stover October 11, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    Hope your good advice can keep my bagel from burning to a cinder.

    • Bob Hostetler October 11, 2017 at 8:08 am #

      I hope the bagel survived.

  8. Callie Daruk October 11, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    Bob, I love the whole concept of these posts. I know I’m of the stubborn sort, but I tend to learn more from what not to do that what to do. Another great post full of wisdom. You’ve pulled from a very experienced group and I appreciate that. They’ve probably seen it all and then some!

  9. Bob Hostetler October 11, 2017 at 8:09 am #

    Yes, Jerry knows one or two things about writing. And Rhonda is always a hoot. Maybe a hoot and a half.

    • Rhonda Rhea October 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

      I love it when you guys talk about me behind my back. No really. I do. Also I feel you should know I’m shooting for being two entire hoots. And thanks for letting me play. 🙂

  10. Bob Hostetler October 11, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    Yes, Callie, I have some wise friends–their friendship with me notwithstanding.

  11. Carol Ashby October 11, 2017 at 8:34 am #

    Love the list, Bob.

    There might not be a crossover market, but there are crossover categories at Amazon. Ancient world historical fiction is one of them. Everything from Francine Rivers’s Mark of the Lion to werewolf gladiators of Rome can be found there. OK, werewolf gladiators might not be strictly historical, but I don’t control what Amazon puts into a particular category.

    • Carol Ashby October 11, 2017 at 8:53 am #

      That’s one of my keywords, so I search it fairly often. Ancient world historical romance is another crossover category. The variety in the cover art there is…interesting.

      • Steve Laube October 11, 2017 at 4:17 pm #


        Unfortunately that is not what people mean by saying “write a crossover novel.”

        What they mean is write a Christian book that will be a bestseller in the general market.

        And it is usually described casually as if it is a thing…even a common thing.

        What you are describing is a cross-genre novel. A story that lands in multiple genres at the same time.

        Hope that helps.


  12. Nan Rinella October 11, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Now, that’s advice you can take to the bank. ?

  13. Kathy Sheldon Davis October 11, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    “You need be true to your own voice. Send out rejection slips to publishers: ‘I’m sorry but you don’t suit my editorial needs at this time.'”

    I love this attitude. But, my oh my, I don’t know if I could pull off this much chutzpah.

  14. Melissa Ferguson October 11, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    Yes! There are definitely, certainly, 100% absolutely no absolutes. ?

  15. Judith Robl October 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    Did I mention that I really like your take on things, Bob?

    This is a great list of “do not try to implement these” pieces of advice.

    Writing to give the reader a powerful emotional experience (thanks Randy) is the goal here. Anything that detracts from that is to be trashed or corrected.

  16. Deb Santefort October 11, 2017 at 8:09 pm #

    I read that third person narration is out of style. I think that’s ridiculous. Besides, it often takes years to publish a book so even if that were true who’s to say it would still be true when the book is actually released?

  17. D. J. Blackmore October 16, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    I take all this as encouragement. In short, there’s no right or wrong way, it just needs to be what works for you. I’ve come to learn that this isn’t selfish – since writing a work of fiction is the very essence of self – I agree with James N. Watkins: “You need to be true to your own voice”.

  18. Jeff Lossau October 20, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

    Most advice comes from people who aren’t qualified to give it.

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