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Bad Writing Advice: Are These 7 Writing Tips Terrible?

“Bad Writing Advice You Should Definitely Ignore”

“Top Ten Writing Tips For Newbie Authors”

“20 Pieces Of Terrible Writing Advice That’ll Ruin Your Day” 

“20 Writing Tips That’ll Make You A Better Writer”

“Epic Writing Advice From Famous Authors”

You’ve seen those blog posts before. 

There has been a lot written about good writing advice, and there’s also a lot written about why some of that same advice is actually bad.

It’s like an all-out, never-ending, slug-fest between two competing camps. One camp might say something is terrible writing advice that you must absolutely ignore in whatever circumstance, while the other camp might vehemently disagree.  

It’s like you’re in the middle of a literary battlefield with each opposing side throwing out opinions on what advice is good and which are bad like grenades.

The important thing here is to realize what works for you as a writer. Ultimately, you’re the one holding the pen. 

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad writing advice in the world. They’re out there in the open, baiting an unsuspecting newbie writer into promises of literary stardom and renown. 

So to combat that, we have compiled here a list of the worst of the worst.

We’ll break down why these pieces of advice are not just bad, but why they are also downright harmful to your writing. And once we’ve laid out the case against them, you can then make an informed decision on whether or not to follow them.

So let’s navigate the treacherous water of bad writing advice together.

Kermit’s had it with all of these bad writing advice.

Bad writing advice 1: “Kill your darlings”

Why is it bad?

If you’ve been part of the writing community for some time, you’ve likely heard this interestingly gruesome phrase in one way or another. 

This saying has been popularized by Stephen King himself, who wrote about it in his book On Writing.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

What most people don’t know is that this is just a version of another older saying that originated from English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Incidentally, he also wrote a similar book to King’s called On The Art of Writing (they even got similar titles too!).

 Sir Quiller-Couch wrote:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it— whole-heartedly— and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” 

What do you know, the original quote is even more savage.

So now, you have a whole generation of writers who see that as some sort of unbreakable writing mantra. Any cleverly-worded piece of prose or a sentence that is too flowery than usual gets cut out unceremoniously.

In the context of fiction, this saying can also mean killing off or cutting out everything you love from your book. Have a favorite character? Kill that guy off! GRR Martin made killing off well-loved characters a multi-million dollar industry. You can do it too!

If you have a favorite bit of dialogue, that probably means it’s bad! Delete it ASAP! Remember, you have to write for readers, not for yourself!

Is it really that bad? 

It’s sound writing advice in general. It’s only bad when people take it TOO literally.  

The premise behind “Kill your darlings”

Yes, as a writer, you must not get too attached to your prose, which is the whole point of ‘Kill your darlings.’ 

Say you have written the best sentence you have ever written in your career. It flows so well and is so vivid that you’d think it could go on one of those ‘Top Ten Best Sentences From Books’ web lists.

Unfortunately, after finishing your manuscript, you may find that it just doesn’t fit, no matter how cleverly written it is. It really can’t say what you want it to say. 

So, in this case, you should have no qualms about cutting that sentence off, no matter how attached you are to it.

But what pushes ‘Kill your darlings’ into terrible writing advice territory is when people interpret it at face value. Some writers cut off any clever or flowery sentences simply because they are clever or flowery.

But there’s a time and place for flowery prose. It might work in more introspective and character-driven pieces. Don’t cut something just because it exists. Maybe try to save it in another document and revisit or rewrite later. Concepts and characters that you killed off may be also reworked into another form, or revisited in another story altogether. 

Bad writing advice 2: Mind your grammar

Why is it bad?

Your business as a writer is to write. And your copyeditor’s business is to edit. That’s how it usually goes in the world of writing and publishing. 

Bogging yourself down with endless nitpicking over words, punctuation and grammar will just limit your productivity. Oxford comma or no Oxford comma… who cares? It’s just a draft! Let your editor sort it out.

If you’re self-publishing, separating the editor and writer in yourself can be much harder. There will always be this temptation to edit while you write. 

But the rule remains: Be a writer first, and edit later. 

Is it really that bad? 

When taken to an extreme, yes. Imagine sending in a 50,000-word piece filled to the brim with misspellings, weirdly-placed modifiers, and funny word choices to an editor or an agent. 

But in general, no.

The odd typo is fine, especially in the first draft. But consistently sending in work that is riddled with errors can make you look unprofessional. 

If you’re going to send your manuscript out into the open and have other people read it, give it a little bit of polish first. 

You don’t even have to do this step yourself. Run your text through a tool like Grammarly or Hemingway and you’re all set. 

Obsessing over grammar shouldn’t become an obsession. But you have to admit that turning in work with minimal errors is a necessary aspect in professional writing.

Batman minds his grammar. Be like Batman.

Bad writing advice 3: Write for yourself

Why is it bad?

One of the pillars of bad writing advice, “Write for yourself,” has been a stumbling block for many new writers.

Because that’s what writers do, right? They take some lovely ideas off their heads, put them on paper, and the money comes rolling in

But here’s the thing: to make a living off of writing, you have to write for an audience. 

Your audience can be anyone- from Tiktok teens to car salesmen, businessmen to English majors. But whoever they may be, you always have to write their interests in mind. 

When every writer writes for themselves, what’s the point of publishing then? 

Is it really that bad?

Yes, it is bad. 

If your goal in writing is to use it as a therapeutic aid or as a form of self-expression, then it’s perfectly okay to write for yourself. When you’re both the writer and reader, you don’t need to worry about an audience. 

Poetry is probably one of the forms of writing where “writing for yourself” is usually acceptable, since it deals with personal experiences and emotions. However, a poet might still want to share these experiences and emotions with others 

If your goal is to publish and have your work be seen by the world, then you have to craft your writing in a way that appeals to whoever your target audience is.

There is just no way around it.

Bad writing advice 4: Never read any books in the genre you’re writing for

Why is it bad?

Writers don’t like being called a copycat of [insert famous author’s name here] by their audience. They don’t like their work being framed as something that is unoriginal or being a derivative of another writer’s work.

Imagine dedicating a significant portion of your life to writing a book, only to be labeled a “bargain bin David Foster Wallace” or a “wannabe JD Salinger” or any other derogatory term.

This is why new writers are often advised to not read other books in the genre they’re writing in.

Accidental copying is a thing.

Reading other works in the same genre can make someone accidentally copy another author’s tone, style, characters, plot points, etcetera. 

And the result is almost always on either extreme. You either have a book that is so extraordinary and fresh that people are curious and drawn to it. 

Or you have a book that is so weird and strange that it alienates people who typically read in that genre.

Unfortunately, it’s more likely to fall in the latter category. 

Is it really that bad? 


Let’s listen to what Blood Meridian author Cormac McCarthy has to say about the matter:

“The ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written” 

This is why genres exist. A group of authors liked each other’s work so much that they made their stories fit into a category so that readers can easily find other similar stories. 

Writers are influenced by other writers

Every writer who has picked up a pen has been influenced by other writers who came before them, whether they have realized it or not. 

Writing within a genre can be constraining. But if people want a self-help book on maximizing productivity then they expect to read a book that fits the stereotype of what a productivity self-help book should be.  

If people want a historical fiction novel, then they expect just that: a book that contains the tropes and conventions of the historical fiction genre. 

It’s up to your skill as a writer to work within these constraints, and to make yours stand out from a sea of similar books. 

As we’ve said before on our blog post on book positioning: your book has to “fit in and stand out.”

Bad writing advice 5: Books with prologues are bad books 

Why is it bad?

Some people just have visceral reactions to prologues. They believe that the mere existence of a prologue is the ultimate determinant of whether a book is worthy to be read or not.

But the intense dislike isn’t entirely unwarranted though. 

Too often, prologues are used as a crutch for lazy writing. It is frequently misused as a storytelling device; where lazy authors use it as a medium through which they info-dump entire backstories and histories unto unsuspecting readers. 

Because of the less-than-stellar reputation of prologues, many writers choose to skip writing them altogether. They often judge other books solely based on whether or not it contains a prologue, regardless of the actual quality of the writing.

Is it really that bad? 

Yes, it is. Because this advice fixates on the form rather than the substance of the writing. 

It’s a toxic fallacy that can lead writers to avoid prologues altogether, and readers to miss out on the unique benefits they can offer.

For example, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones begins with a lengthy and action-packed prologue. The same is true for other beloved books, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library.

If these writers had heeded the bad advice that prologues are always bad, readers would have been deprived of some truly memorable and impactful opening scenes.

Bad writing advice 6: Don’t use an outline and just start writing

Why is it bad?

There are some truly great writers that walk among us who can breeze through writing a book without the use of an outline.

They can churn out perfectly formed chapters effortlessly, without even having to think about it. They don’t even have to worry about the structure of the book, as everything comes out structurally sound.

Bad news: you’re probably not one of these writers. 

Is it really that bad?

Advising newer writers to start writing a book without an outline is like telling an adventurer to venture into unknown and dangerous lands without a map or guide in hand. 

While it’s possible to make it out alive, there’s a huge chance that you might encounter some scratches and bumps along the way. Worse yet, you might not make it out at all.

Consider a novel. A novel’s plot line must develop over specific points to move it forward. That’s why you need to set up scenes that accomplish tasks that are critical to the plot. You’d also have to think about character arcs, motivations, and pivotal events. So all in all writing a novel is a very complex undertaking. 

Unless you have photographic memory, it’ll be impossible to keep all of these plot points in your head. You need to know how to get from point A to point B and what important details are in between. Diving into writing a novel without an outline is like wandering blindly into a complex maze with no idea where you’re going or how to get there.

writing a book without an outline feels like this

Bad writing advice 7: “Show don’t tell”

Why is it bad?

This age-old literary adage is drilled into most writers from middle school, reinforced all the way up to university-level, and even emphasized in writing workshops. This makes it difficult to understand why it is considered bad advice.

We’re often told that “telling” means stating things as they are, reciting facts and events like you’re reading off a grocery list.

While showing is presenting the same facts in a more artistic and emotional manner, allowing the reader to engage more with the material and inviting them to use their senses.

So more showing and less telling is always good, right?

Is it really that bad?

“Show don’t tell” is not inherently bad advice. The problem is that most people misunderstand it and think that it means they must always show everything to the reader and not tell anything at all.

There’s a proper time and place for telling as it is for showing. It’s not an unbreakable rule. 

For example, using telling (“The teacher glared at him.”) is perfectly acceptable in instances where the narrator, rather than the author, is doing the telling. It’s also fine in cases where it’s a transition scene, or when you need to move to the next plot point or scene quickly.

Showing (“The window was rattling loudly, as if the glass was on the verge of shattering, while the wind relentlessly pounded against it.”) is used when you want to slow down the action and let the reader savor the scene. You want to emotionally engage the reader and immerse them in the atmosphere of the moment.

Final Words

The next time you stumble upon an article titled “Top Ten Writing Tips” or even “Top Terrible Writing Tips” like this very article that you’re reading, don’t just blindly follow it. 

Remember, these are just tips. They’re not laws- they’re not meant to be followed to a “T.” 

You can use them as a starting point on which to jump off from when you want to explore and experiment with your writing. 

It’s important to take in all types of advice, both good and bad, but with a grain of salt. 

What may seem like terrible advice for you as a novice writer might actually be helpful when you become more experienced. Only time will tell, so in the meantime, you just have to keep writing on.

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