Wednesday, June 30, 2021

No such thing as bad advice...

Our assignment this month was to talk about “bad advice”. So, here’s the thing…

I’ve had plenty of advice thrown my way over the years, both good and not so good. But I like to think that there’s no such thing as “bad” advice. Unwise, maybe. Lacking insight, perhaps. Not the right fit for my specific circumstance, sometimes. But most people are well-intentioned when they share their story or encourage you to follow the path that worked so well for them. The trick is in knowing when to take it, and when to trust your own best judgment.

Perhaps it depends, then, on the critical thinking, common sense, and intuitive power (also known as “gut instinct”) of the partaker of said advice. 

Being able to distinguish between what does and doesn’t serve us well at any given time is a by-product of maturity, independent thinking, and self-confidence in our skills. If we know who we are and what we want, and we hone our skills to the best of our ability, we’ll take any advice through a filter of what is most right for us, and hopefully, choose accordingly.

For example: I was once told that the title I’d chosen for one of my early books (SAVAGE CINDERELLA) would shine too harsh a light on my character and didn’t really fit the story. The title came from a line in the book which really connected with me, and perfectly described the main character, Brinn’s, transformation and fight for survival. Because this advice-giver was a friend and a well-respected author, I listened and titled the book something else right before I entered several contests with it. The book never made it to a final round finish. A few months went by and my first-choice title kept rolling around in my gut, nagging me to go with my original idea. I changed it back and submitted to two more contests—both of which, the book won first place. Weird, right? All I had changed was the title!

The takeaways: Don’t give up! And follow your gut.

By the same token, there are times we can let our pride, angst, and insecurities take over, and we refuse to take a perfectly awesome suggestion that could lead us down an entirely different path. This goes under the heading of “good advice not taken”.

Here’s an example of such a moment…

I had written ON THIN ICE, a book of my heart that has many elements of my own life woven into its pages. Seventeen-year-old figure skater, Penny, deals with several traumatic and challenging events and issues throughout the story, to the point one early contest judge said, “If any girl went through everything Penny did, she’d be in a psychiatric hospital.” To which I responded with a hand wave in the air, “Still here!”

Before pitching it to agents and editors at a conference, I spoke with another well-respected author who always gave incredible advice on all things writing. She recommended I break up the book into several stories and pitch it as a series. Each book would focus on a different main character, but each of them would only be dealing with one BIG issue. Basically, she said when writing YA, to pick one main conflict and bleed all over the page for about 240 pages.

This was good advice and a brilliant idea…and all but impossible. I tried to deconstruct the book over a period of several months. It was torturous. Every thread I pulled unraveled the story more, and I couldn’t find a way to make essential connections that felt authentic. Listening to my gut—which was screaming so loudly I could barely sleep—I gave up. Ultimately, I felt like Penny couldn’t get to her HEA any other way than to experience all that she did. To this day, I love that story and I wouldn’t change a thing—although I would have loved to have seen what would have happened with that series! 

My feeling these days is take what works and leave the rest. Use your own good judgment, listen to your gut, and be true to yourself. As I've matured, I have also learned to embrace humility and accept that I don’t know everything. Being open to learning, growing, and listening (with my ears and my gut), makes me better able to decide what truly is “good” or “bad” advice.

A licensed massage therapist by day, PJ Sharon is also an award-winning author of young adult novels, including PIECES of LOVE, HEAVEN is for HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and Holt Medallion-winner SAVAGE CINDERELLA. You can follow Brinn’s story in the Savage Cinderella Novella series which includes FINDING HOPE, LOST BOYS, SACRED GROUND, BROKEN ANGEL, and LIBERTY’S PROMISE.

In addition to her contemporary YA lit, Ms. Sharon’s YA dystopian trilogy, The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, which RT Book Reviews calls “An action-packed read with a strong female lead,” is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure inspired by her fascination with “prepping” and her passion for environmental causes, as much as by her love of romance and the unending “what-if’s” that haunt her imagination.

PJ has two grown sons and several adorable grandchildren, and lives with her brilliant engineer of a husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA where she writes, kayaks, and plays in the dirt as often as possible.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Who Asked You? (Brian Katcher)

 I once asked an author friend if he was a member of a writers' group. "No, I don't need five people telling me five different things."

All well and good, but what happens when you have five people telling you the same thing?

They're still wrong. Everybody loves good Laverne and Shirley fan fiction. When will Laverne realize that Lenny, not Carmine, is the man she should be with? It's not a 'dumb idea' that will 'never sell' and 'No one actually invited you to this writers' group meeting.'

Well, advice, like little things at Walmart that fit in your pockets, is free. But here are some poor writing suggestions I've received. I'll post the private phone numbers of these people in the comments so you can call them and tell them they're stupid.

Never look directly at what you're typing; always keep your head turned to the side.

This was from my 10th grade keyboarding teacher who insisted that we keep our eyes on our rough draft, not on the typewriter (yes, I'm that old). She wanted to make sure that we weren't looking at the keys. However, she absolutely could not get it into her head that sometimes people didn't write something out long handed before they typed it.

You can't just write about farting and masturbation.

That was my 12th grade writing teacher, grading my poetry notebook. She later invited me to speak to her class. When I showed her the comments on my old assignment, she cheerfully admitted she'd been wrong.

Never ask a librarian for help unless you are absolutely stumped. You should be able to find everything on your own. Bothering the librarian is a last resort.

 That was my 5th grade school librarian. She was trying to teach us to be independent researchers, but as an elementary librarian myself, that still kind of cheeses me off.

Does this character have to be Black?

Ex-member of my writers' group. He'd forgotten a secondary character wasn't white and basically suggested I make him 'normal.'

Do you really have to go through your agent? Can't you just submit your books to the publishers without telling her?

It shocks me how many people do not understand WHY I have an agent.

Friday, June 25, 2021

"Helpful" Writing and Publishing Advice:)

As far as writing goes, I’ve received A LOT of less-than-helpful advice. Luckily, I didn't heed a lot of it (though was definitely tempted more than once). If I had followed some of these directives, I probably wouldn't have had the career I do now (which I'm very grateful for). 

Here’s just a sampling of some of the advice bits I've been given over the years, as well what I've learned along the publishing way (in no particular order): 

1. “You need an agent to sell your work.” (You don’t, but the right agent can definitely help you. Plus, once you have a contract offer from a publisher, it can be easier to find the right agent to help you negotiate the deal. I sold my first few books to an editor on my own and later got an agent.) 

2. “You need to pay a reading fee before we can consider your work.” (Run if you hear this. It’s simply not true. Make sure you’ve done your homework and that you’re sending your work to reputable professionals in the business. Know who their clients are and what types of deals they’ve brokered. Research, research, research, and, yes, it's okay to ask questions.) 

3. “You need to work in publishing to sell something.” (Not true.) 

4. “It’s all about who you know.” (Also, not really true, unless you’re famous, which will help because then you’ll have a built-in audience which will help the publisher sell kajillions of books. Bottom line (in my opinion, of course): if your manuscript is amazing, have faith that it will find its place when the timing is right, market-wise. Even if you’re BFFs with the executive editor at Fancy Publishing House…if your work isn’t ready or if the trends are elsewhere, it’s going to be hard. Keep focused on your work, getting it where it needs to be, writing/story-wise.) 

5. “You should get an MFA in creative writing.” (That depends. While you certainly don’t need the degree itself to publish a book, unless you want to teach at the college level, an MFA can be beneficial if the program supports your growth as a writer. If you don’t need the degree and have an amazing support system in place for your writing growth and publishing goals, i.e. a fabulous writers’ group that reads/critiques your work in a beneficial way and gives you the opportunity to read/critique their work; and if you also have a book group that studies work, looking at it for literary devices such as point-of-view, characterization, plot, setting, themes, dialogue, structure, etc., etc. then you may not need the classes.) 

6. “You don’t need an MFA in creative writing to publish your work.” (See #5.) 

7. “You should make this adult suspense book a young adult sci-fi-romance (or equivalent) because that’s what’s hot right now.” (What’s hot right now will likely not be as hot in a year or two years. Trends change, so don’t chase them. Write the novel you want to write. Focus on your intention for the story and characters. What is your goal in delving into this particular story?) 

8. “This story just doesn’t work. I don’t get it.” (I was told this about my novel Bleed, which sold in a bidding war a year later. Trends change. Tastes change. You kind of have to go with your gut as far as your own work goes. Do you really believe in it? Do you truly feel the story needs to be told? Or was it a story that helped you get to the next one, which, by the way, is invaluable in itself? Resist letting others make that choice for you.) 

9. “I just don’t feel this book can compete in today’s competitive market.” (Months later I sold that book, Blue is for Nightmares, to an editor who believed in it as much as I did. It’s spawned a series and gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide.) 

10. “Once you sell one book, it’ll be easy to sell another.” (Not true. Even New York Times bestselling authors have to work and struggle to get book deals. There are no sure-things in this business. It can be tricky and painful for sure, but those of us who stay in the game do so because we can’t not. Writing is our love; it's a major part of who we are and how we make sense of the world.)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

You Do You, I’ll Do Me (Brenda Hiatt)

Reading over all the previous posts this month, clearly there’s no shortage of bad writing advice out there! Like every writer, I’ve heard my share over the years, too. I actually count myself rather fortunate that when I first started writing, I didn’t know any other writers. At all. I just muddled along on my own, mostly trying to write the kind of book I wanted to read in my favorite (at the time) genre.  I had no idea what I was doing, which maybe worked to my advantage. If I’d been told by Those Who Knew Better to “write what you know” or “write X words a day, come hell or high water,” or “you have to have an agent to sell a book,” I might never have made my first sale. 

As it was, I wrote a story I liked about characters I liked, in a time period I liked. I did discover along the way that some research was necessary, something a seasoned writer probably would have told me. But hey, I knew how to use a library (this was pre-internet) so was able to plug my gaps in knowledge to make my scenes and history realistic. Knowing nothing of agents, I went to a bookstore to see who was publishing Regencies like mine and wrote down addresses. Then I typed up cover letters (I probably did rely on some book or other for that) and mailed off my manuscript to them all. Yeah, I was that naive. Not surprisingly, I racked up a bunch of rejections. But one publisher, Harlequin, offered to read another book if I had one. By then, I’d nearly finished book #2 (learning more about the market along the way) so I did just that…and sold it. Unagented. 

Since the indie revolution, I’ve heard a whole new crop of writing advice, much of it bad, at least in my opinion. Like: “To be successful, you must produce as quickly as possible.” There are “gurus” out there who insist you need to publish a minimum of six books a year to “make it” as an indie author. And yes, many indie authors who can put out a book every six weeks do make bank. So… I tried. I read books and attended workshops, all aimed at doubling or tripling my writing speed. You know what I managed to produce more of? Stress! After a year or two, I realized that I can no more write fast than I can write to market. Some authors can do both, brilliantly, but not me.

Once I stopped beating myself up for not writing faster, I took a look around and noticed something: many of those authors who had previously been writing 8, 10, 12 books a year, had burned out and completely stopped writing. Others were on the edge and panicking, afraid if they slowed down, their income would drop, because nearly all their earnings were from their front-list books. Looking at my own earnings, I realized that most of my income actually came from my backlist—not surprising in a slow writer. Yet I was actually making as much as many of those super-fast writers. Huh. 

Some authors really can write both very quickly and very well, and more power to them. But for most of us, there’s a tradeoff between speed and quality. When I hear a writing/marketing “expert” advise would-be bestsellers that it’s better to publish something “good enough” now than to lose momentum by taking another month to polish it, I cringe. Before I put my name on a book, I want it to be the absolute best I can make it. Maybe perfection’s not possible, but dammit, I’ll get as close as I can. Based on my reviews and backlist sales, that strategy can work just as well. (And for me, at least, it’s a whole lot less stressful!)

So I’ll repeat what several others here have already said: The only Good Writing Advice is advice that works for you. Any advice that doesn’t, for whatever reason, is Bad Writing Advice. Period.


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-five novels (so far). The most recent, Convergent, released October 27, 2020 and she hopes to release her next before the end of the year. She’ll do her best to make it worth waiting for!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Best Bad Advice

By Christine Gunderson


Our topic this month is bad writing advice. Most of the writing advice I consider “bad,” isn’t really bad at all. It’s usually perfectly good advice that just doesn’t work for me. Conversely, my idea of good writing advice is probably terrible advice for someone else. 


The trick with most advice is figuring out what works for you and then having the courage and confidence to stick with it, even when everyone else insists that your way is the wrong way. This is true for advice about everything, from parenting and downhill skiing to time management and cooking.


Here are a couple examples:


Write Every Day:


People living in solitary confinement in a federal penitentiary might be able to follow this advice. And perhaps also cloistered nuns. But for me at least, this is really hard. I have kids and dogs and a house and a yard and a car and teeth and hair. All these things require regular maintenance, and in the case of the kids and dogs, actual attention. I can plan to write every day and often try, but All the Things get in the way. 


So, for me, Write Every Day is bad advice. Instead, I set aside time to write as often as possible, usually in the morning. Daily writing is my theoretical goal.


In reality however, I might only write three days a week or five days, or no days at all. I try to protect my mornings because I write best in the morning. I try to find a balance between pulling my weight as a mom and a citizen and saying no when asked to volunteer. I try really hard to put my writing before all the things that suck energy from my body, creativity from my mind and time from my day.


But when the dog is vomiting and the kids have strep and the washing machine quits, or there is a global pandemic shutting down all the schools and Starbucks too, and I am trapped in my house with family members who cannot for the life of them figure out how to find clean underwear or start the dishwasher, then I must accept that writing will not happen on those days.


Set a Word Count Goal:


Here’s another excellent piece of advice that is really bad advice for me. I have a friend who gives herself a goal, like 2,000 words. Once she hits that goal, she shuts the laptop and goes about her business, because her writing is done for the day. 


I wish I could do this, but I can’t. When I have a word count goal, I stare at the little number on the bottom of the screen, asking, “Am I there yet? Am I there yet?” Writing becomes a terrible slog to an unknown destination instead of a secret world I never want to leave.


Instead, I give myself time goals, like “I will sit in this chair and write for three hours, getting up only to go to the bathroom and/or get another mug of black tea.” Is this physically unhealthy? Probably. But when I give myself a time goal, the minutes fly by. I look up and realize that three hours have passed. I can only get words on the page when I don’t count them.


Expect Failure and Rejection:


No one actually gave me this advice when I started writing, primarily because I didn’t know any other writers. I only knew non-writers, and like most non-writers, I thought that everyone who writes a book becomes both rich and famous, because look at the once obscure and penniless person now known as J.K. Rowling. I had unrealistic expectations, to put it mildly.


I was pretty sure my first book would be both an Oprah pick and a movie. And wasn’t. It was rejected. Repeatedly. I had to write and re-write and re-re-write a second book before I could even get an agent, much less a movie deal. And the book that got me two offers of representation from agents was rejected again by editors when it finally went on submission.


I didn’t know this was normal. I thought rejection was a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be writing at all. 


Then I met other writers. They put their arms around me and said, “Bless your heart, baby fiction writer. We know it hurts. But you can’t give up, because rejection and failure are part of the process.”


That’s probably the most painful advice I’ve ever received about writing, but it was also the most helpful, so I’m passing it along here, free of charge. Unfortunately, this advice also applies to proms, jobs, parenting, board games, DIY home improvement projects, pie crust, and life as a whole.


Writing a Book is Hard:


I didn’t get this at first. I thought writing a novel was just hard for me, because I was doing it wrong. But no. Writing a novel is hard for everyone. There’s no silver bullet, no magic process or piece of advice to make it easier. 


We can accept or reject all the advice we want, but at the end of the day each writer is alone at the keyboard. There are no short cuts. Only we can do it, and only one word at a time. 


So maybe the best bad advice I’ve ever received can be encapsulated in a cliché from a sneaker company. 


Just do it, writer. 

Just do it.




Christine Gunderson is writer who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star the Wonder dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can reach her at


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bad Writer! Bad! by Patty Blount

 If there's one thing I've learned in the decade or so since my first book was published, it's that there is a LOT of bad advice out there. 

A lot. 

The thing to remember is there is no one-size-fits-all, guaranteed-or-your-money-back way to write. There just isn't. Writers, you have to find what works for you, but too often, that means swimming through the muck of polluted water to find those techniques. 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was born out of the worst advice. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but hear me out. 

When SEND was going through copy edits, I read a comment that still has my jaw dropping every time I think about it. Here's the page, taken right from the book. (Italics indicates lines from "Kenny," a hallucination of Dan's.)

We're in main character Dan's head. He's the POV character. He's a teenage boy carrying a dark secret. 

At the top of the page, you're reading a scene directly after having sex with heroine Julie. 

He's having second thoughts. His emotions are out of control. 

Do you see the line at the top, "Oh God. I had sex with Julie. I should be shot."

My copy editor flagged this and changed it to "I had had sex with Julie and should have been shot." 

Keep in mind, this was my first novel. I thought I had to change everything the editors flagged. 

I hated this change with the passion of a thousand suns. Dan would NOT speak that way! I mean, sure, he'd know all about the past perfect tense because he was a good student, but he'd never speak that way and would most definitely not speak that way while in the middle of an emotional crisis like this. 

I was sick over this. I believed I HAD to change this line their way and I couldn't do it. Finally, I talked to my agent and he said I absolutely did not have to correct that line. 

Doing so would change the voice. MY VOICE. That's what makes this book a Patty Blount book. 

If I sound like a diva, YEAH! That's my point. Not all advice is good. I knew, in my gut, that this particular change would negatively impact my story. I said no, and the book was published as I wrote it, with Dan's grammar mistakes evident. 

That is how I envision a teenage boy speaking. 

So I learned a lesson here and that was not all advice applies to all authors or even to all works. It's okay to disregard some of it. It's okay if advice that every other finds helpful doesn't work for you. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

I Got Straight As in Bad Advice (Holly Schindler)

Part of what takes so long to get from first sentence to first book deal is that you get so much bad advice. 

Unfortunately, much of mine actually came from my...writing program.

I got a master's in English, emphasis in creative writing. My thesis was creative. I was considered one of the best students in the program. 

And yet...

It took seven and a half years of full time effort to sign my first deal. 

To some extent, that's because I had to unlearn much of what I'd mastered in my program:

*Literary fiction is superior to genre fiction. No, no, no, a thousand times no. I prefer "Easy reading is damn hard writing." It's truer. 

*Along with the above, there was always an emphasis on internal stories, character-driven over plot-driven. IF THERE IS NO PLOT THERE IS NO STORY.

*Show don't tell. I can't begin to describe how over-simplified and useless this rule is. You are telling a story. Essentially, all sentences are telling. And if you get caught up in dramatizing everything, your book will be eleven thousand pages long.

Oh, I could go on. The workshops we had on so many insignificant points. I once came to class and was told, "I have a major problem with this story." Turned out, there was a typo (misspelling) in the title. Granted, you shouldn't have a typo in a title. But it was a typo. It was not a major problem. I also sat through a session in which it was debated whether or not my main character could see through a window in a door at the angle I'd described. 

I didn't get into the finer points of plotting  or story shapes or overall structure until after my first books were published. And it just boggles my mind. I mean, we get into this to tell stories. And yet, we weren't discussing how to actually write stories. We primarily nitpicked description.

Do yourselves a favor. Learn how to put together a story. Find out about the beats of your particular genre. Spin a good yarn. One that keeps people on the edge of their seats. And don't worry about "literary" bells and whistles. 

That's the advice I was I had been given.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Advice of an iffy sort


Bad Writing Advice-Sorta:(John Clark-NKOB) Three come to mind that I think are worth sharing. The first is ‘Write What You Know’. Granted this works in many instances, but what if you’re writing fantasy, or science fiction? In those instances, internal consistency is more important. After all, it’s YOUR world and hopefully, your rules, but heaven help you if what you said was real on page 56 is contradicted on page 142. If you’re like me, you sometimes write to entertain and discover for yourself. Many times I’ll begin a short story with just a fragment of an idea and when I’m done, it’s as much a surprise to me as it is to readers. My sister, Kate Flora, refers to this as the can of peas phenomenon, where you come out of a daze in the supermarket, staring at a can of peas because one of your characters just hijacked the story.

 Perception is an integral part of writing and often beyond the writer's control. Is the focus of this picture a flower, or an insect?

Next is ‘Make it as perfect as possible before letting anyone else read it.’ Sometimes what might seem like a wart to you will be appealing to Beta readers, so don’t be afraid to let others see the unvarnished. Their feedback will often take your story in a new and better direction.

 Again with perception, is this art, or trash?

The third piece of advice isn’t necessarily bad either, but depends on logistics and the era. When I started writing, the internet was in its infancy. I live in a big state with a small population. That has always meant traveling is part of life if you want a job, be part of an organization, etc. That applies to writers’ groups. Most were held in the Portland area, with others having a short life. The first one I joined had three people and I quickly learned the other two were allergic to constructive criticism. I went three times before it died. The other I joined was a most interesting bunch. A transgender woman writing a romance novel, a poet, a woman writing Christian westerns, two writing memoirs (one personal, the other a town history), another writing a book of evangelical exhortations and me, writing a young adult fantasy novel. Given that no one was writing the same kind of stuff, criticism/feedback was hit or miss. Sadly, even with so much more being done online, writing groups in Maine remain like unicorns.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Advice I Didn't Take (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about bad writing advice. To be sure, there’s no shortage of advice out there—good and bad. That said, I think a lot of bad advice is doled out with good intentions. Sometimes, it’s simply outdated advice. Other times, it’s cloaked in absolutes, like ‘always’ and ‘never’. Many times, people use it to deter others from making the same mistakes they've made. 


Occasionally, it’s weary advice, the “I’m really tired of seeing this done poorly, so please just don’t even try” advice. And while it’s sometimes understandable, I’d venture to say this last one isn’t good advice. We should all be able to at least try. And who knows? We might be the ones to succeed. 

You see, writing is a subjective business. The book I love may not be someone else’s cup of tea, and vice versa. By the way, don’t use cliches like ‘cup of tea’ when you write. Just don’t. Unless it’s a book about cliches. Or unless your main character is in a coffee shop and orders a cup of tea.

And don’t even get me started on ‘just’. Superfluous words! Strike them all. JUST DO IT. 

Oh...wait. That line sounds vaguely (and famously) familiar.


See what I mean? 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. Some of the best-selling books (and slogans) currently in the market go against the ‘professional’ advice. Does that mean it’s bad? 


Not necessarily. 


This is a subjective business, which means sometimes ‘good’ advice is contradictory. 


When I was shopping When A Dragon Moves In around, I received two professional critiques from top tier editors in the publishing world. It’s a story about a little boy who builds the perfect sandcastle, only no one believes him, causing the dragon to act out and the boy to be blamed. I wanted it to be up to the readers to decide whether Dragon was real or simply a figment of the boy’s imagination.


The first editor said, “No, you have to make sure the readers know the dragon is imaginary.  


The second editor said, “No, you have to make sure the readers know the dragon is real.” 

Needless to say, I was confused and a bit depressed after the critiques. I had already sent the manuscript out to several publishing houses and agents. I’d received four rejections. Only one sub remained unanswered.


A month later, Flashlight Press editor Shari Dash Greenspan followed up my submission query with a question: “Is the dragon real or not?”


My stomach knotted. But before I could change my mind, I typed: “I want the readers to decide” and hit send. I waited for the rejection.


But lo and behold—she embraced the concept! To be fair, she mentioned the challenge of drawing a character that may or may not be there. We researched other books for a year to see if this was possible. With each email, I wondered if she’d change her mind. But she didn’t. Then she brought the brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam on board and the two of them took my vision to heights I’d never dreamed.


In the ten years since Dragon was released into the world, it’s won awards, has been read by celebrity online storytellers and just this past December, named a Teacher’s Pick by Amazon.


Does this mean the other editors’ advice was bad? No. It means it was ‘just’ advice. (There’s that pesky word again. Remind me to edit it out before I post this.)


Here’s the thing. It’s your project. If the advice resonates, take it. If not. Leave it. You can always change your mind if the counsel doesn’t work out.


That’s just my two cents.


















Thursday, June 10, 2021

Bad Advice (Sydney Salter)


The most common writing advice that I really hate is to WRITE EVERY DAY. I feel like it is advice for men, not women. Definitely not moms. I can't count the number of times my writing time was crushed by a child's sudden illness, or even a teen's need to talk something out. 

I guess I could have shooed my kids away and done that writing. But now that my daughters are grown I'm glad that I didn't. 

I'm no longer a mom in the trenches (though now I rarely turn away a phone call from an adult daughter). Now I'm a care-giving daughter to aging parents. I can't count the number of times my writing time was crushed by a mom's sudden need, or even an aging mom's need to talk something out. 

I guess I could have ignored my aging parents' needs. But now that my mother-in-law is gone, I'm glad that I didn't. 

I HAVE written every day. I've won National Writing Month five times, writing every day of November. Life cooperated in those Novembers--my kids were thriving, parents doing okay. I had fun making Thanksgiving pies and getting my word counts done. 

The thing about NOT writing every day is the thinking time. I've avoided a lot of writing problems by taking the time between writing sessions to think about what I've already written, what I plan to write. I think about my characters. How to fix weaknesses creeping into my WIP. All that thinking makes writing more efficient, maybe even better. I like giving my writing some breathing room. I like taking the pressure off myself to write every day. 

I CAN write daily. I just think that my writing is better when I don't. Give yourself and your writing breathing room. That's my good advice. 

But only if it works for YOU!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Bad Writing Advice: Get It Here FREE (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines we’re talking about the worst writing advice we’ve ever received.

I’m pretty lucky: most people tend not to offer me unsolicited advice. (When I was pregnant for the first time, those who DID offer me unsolicited advice quickly regretted it. But it gave me hilarious stories to tell others, which I did appreciate!)

Even so, I’ve heard and seen some laughable advice over the years.

6. Don’t use semicolons, because they sound too educated.  Dude, I AM educated. I also use the Oxford comma, you ignorant twit.

5. Dumb it down for readers. An editor once sent me a letter filled with truly horrible advice ... and I promptly called a writer friend to read it to her, and we both shrieked with laughter. One comment by the editor: some readers wouldn’t “get” the fairytale and other “brainy” references I was making (in a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood), and I should strip out everything that ANY reader might not get. Oy. It’s called layering, baby. Everyone will understand my novels, but there will be nuggets in there (also known as Easter Eggs) for bright readers who pay attention. To paraphrase Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, super readers LIVE for that shit.


4. Don’t use adverbs. Yeah, well, I write YA. I totally use adverbs. Like, I use them practically all the unbelievably freaking time.

3. Read, read, read in your genre. Okay, I do read in my genre (which is mostly YA, sometimes romantic comedy), but only enough to know what’s happening in the market. But putting similar books into my head while I’m writing will screw up my writer’s voice. Years ago, when I was reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, my American characters suddenly started talking about shagging. Ooops! I immediately set Bridget aside until I’d finished writing my novel. I now mostly read English historicals set in the Regency period. Pure escape, and if I suddenly mention a rake or ninnyhammer or watering pot in my own novel, I know exactly where it came from.


2. There’s only one way to do this. I avoid proselytizers, just like I try to avoid spelling the word “proselytize.” There are a million ways to do ANYTHING, and writing is no exception. Plotters want me (a pantser) to plot out my books before I start writing. (HA HA HA!) An amazing number of silly people care DEEPLY about whether or not there are two spaces after a period. (It’s called “global replace,” kid. End of issue.) And on and on. Do whatever you want. Write however you want. And then, if an editor wants you to change something (other than asking me to make my novels dumb for readers: HA HA HA!), consider EVERYTHING, then make the decision that works best for the book. Not for you or even for the editor, but for the book.

And finally:

1. Years ago, when I was getting discouraged about writing novels that weren’t selling, someone told me it was EASY: I should just sell to her erotica publisher. Me: “But I don’t write erotica. Most of my novels don’t even have sex in them.” The answer: “No problem! Just add some random sex scenes to whatever you’ve already written. Throw them in anywhere.”

That has ALWAYS been my favorite piece of bad writing advice.

(This is actually good advice.)


Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at