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


  1. #1 had me imagining someone giving similar advice to an aspiring writer of musicals..."Don't worry, just scatter random sax scenes in it and you'll be good to go."

  2. I nodded like a bobble head reading this - it's all so true! Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks, Jodi! The world is filled with bad advice! :-)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Holly! My favorite part of # 2 was having to type the word "p-r-o-s-e-l-y-t-i-z-e." I had to google it!

  4. Replies
    1. Since I'm not a big fan of Vonnegut, I guess we're still good. :-)


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