Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Mucking stalls. Freelance writing. How do they differ? I discuss.

Loathsome Writing Advice

More and more, I’m finding that the mission of this blog has become to be the antithesis to all of those desperately earnest blogs out there spreading Pollyanna advice on How To Be A Writer.

Gawd, they make my teeth hurt.

You know the ones I mean.  The ones compiling lists of handy tips on how to spring, fully formed, into the writing world (see Botticelli’s Venus, above) and Make A Great Living.  (Bubble burst #1:  I have been doing this nearly 25 years and have yet to make a great living.  And I’m probably better at this than some people.)

I feel it’s high time that someone shat upon these pointless platitudes from a great height … or at least lobbed a nice 30 kg IBM Selectric up the sides of the heads of those perpetrating this drivel.  And I’m just the snark to do it.

Herewith my personal parade of the banal, cliched, painfully obvious, staggeringly stupid, and just plain lame writing tips I keep seeing, ad nauseum.

I’m begging you, for the love of all that is sacred, please stop telling me to:

1. Write every day, even if it’s not for publication.  Oh Christ, like I need to practise just for the sheer sake of practising.  While I’m at it, why don’t I get some of those multi-lined sheets and revisit my cursive technique?  I always liked doing j’s and q’s …

2. Write for free, in order to get “exposure” (see previous rant here).  

3. Enter writing contests.  Totally counter productive in a head-spinning number of ways.  Not only are you now writing for the privilege of submitting an entry fee, you’re never going to get paid, your material (whether it’s any good or not) will instantly become someone else’s property, and you’re just going to become totally demoralized when it disappears into a black hole and is never heard from again.  Trust me, hardly anyone in the history of time and space has ever launched a writing career based on a contest.  (And please don’t bother sending me the story of the sister-in-law of your second cousin who won a writing contest and is now J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to know.)

4. Create a business plan and calculate how much you’re worth per hour.  Sure, a great idea on paper.  Think you’re consistently going to get anything remotely near what you’re worth in this business?  If so, you have a way better publicist than I do.

5. Try using ‘bid sites’ or writing for content mills.  A great way to break in, if your plan is to establish that you will work for crumbs and never expect to be treated any better.  Seriously, 1500 words for $5?  Thank you, sir, may I have another?  Plus, honestly, the content on the content mills is such shite that you’re not exactly enhancing your resume in such company.  The bid sites are even more humiliating:  just how much more can you debase yourself than the next guy?

6. Write what you know.  Ugh.  Just shoot me.  Okay, I did begin by focusing on a niche in which I already had good contacts.  But a journo’s job is not to dispense her own wisdom… it’s to dispense the wisdom of others.  I didn’t know anything about shopping for a mid-sized tractor, but I was able to a) locate a few experts and b) ask questions, like, say, “So what’s the deal with mid-sized tractors, then?”, then c) write down their answers.  Voila.  Article.  Write what you DON”T know, and chances are you’ll ask much better questions.

7. Everyone wants to read your autobiography or journal of Deep Thoughts.  Hey, it’s even more fun if you write it in the third person, as if you were interviewing yourself.  It will simply fly off the shelves because you are just so gosh-darn interesting.

8.  Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  Oh. My. Fucking.  Gawd.  You need to be told this?

Then there are these constructive lifestyle suggestions:

9. Get lots of sleep.  Sure, as long as deadlines aren’t an issue for you … I’m sure your editor will understand the vital importance of being well-rested.

10. Designate a space for your writing where you can work undisturbed.  I can’t even manage this, living alone with two cats.  They are all over me like hairy white on rice, and that’s to say nothing of my keyboard.  Good luck achieving it if you have a spouse and/or ankle-biters.  Unless you build your very own dungeon, and don’t mind emerging to heaven knows what kind of chaos which has occurred in your bleary-eyed absence.  The thing about working from home is, you’re not really doing anything important, are you, so you are the first victim people call when they need a couch moved or a horse subdued for the vet …

11. Eat healthy snacks.  By all means, make sure your beta-carotene, your psyllium fibre, your spirulina, and your omega-3 intakes are appropriate for the writing life.  Pretend you have unlimited leisure time and no bills to pay.

12. Go for long walks, commune with nature, find your bliss etc.  Because that’s how articles get written.  Certainly not by doing research, interviewing sources, or, um, sitting down and writing.

Let’s not forget these oh-so-helpful tips on the creative process….

13.  Read lots of stuff.  I am absolutely convinced that the bilingual text on my morning box of Cap’n Crunch has made me a better writer.  Seriously, there are people with writing ambitions who never read anything?  Plus, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.

14.  You are a “real writer” if you believe you are.  I believe I’m the heiress to the Thomson media empire, too, but my bank balance, tragically, disagrees.  I’m sorry, but if you’ve never had anything published, you are a hobbyist scribbler.  Maybe an ambitious one, maybe just a delusional one, but your writing needs to be able to stand up to professional scrutiny before you can use the appellation.  Just sayin’.

15.  Do creative cross-training to stimulate the ‘writing  juices’.  Oh, yes.  Make greeting cards out of coloured construction paper and compose a delightful handwritten verse for the innards.  Create bombs from pipecleaners, an old deadbolt, and some glitter glue.  And while you’re at it, sell your crafty creations on Etsy — you might at least make some money that way.

And a few miscellaneous gems:

16. If you’re writing for children, use simple words.  Distressingly conspicuous, wouldn’t you say?

17. Don’t fear what you write.  Huh?  Well, I guess if what you write exposes your secret, festering desire to become a pedophilic serial killer, you might want to be a little afraid.  Or at least surrender yourself to the authorities before things get messy. Trust me, it’s better this way.

18. Come up with catchy titles.  a.k.a., You Can Never Have Too Much Alliteration.

19. I confess, I love, love, love this one:  “If you’re writing fiction, it’s a great idea to have a plot. It will coordinate your thoughts and add consistency to the text.”  (This was actually taken from one of those writing-tips blogs.)  Good Christ on a donkey, why didn’t I think of that?

20.  A writer is someone who needs to write, has to write, is consumed by the passion to write.  Two words:  sheer bollocks.

And I’m spent.

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43 thoughts on “Loathsome Writing Advice

  1. Sing it sister! I’ve always held that a sure cure for writer’s block is 20 inches of school board copy due the following morning.

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  2. Have a Super Monday Night!

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  3. Kirsten Massebeau on said:

    Well said! When it comes down to the when surely anywhere, anytime is the right time to write.

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  4. Funny. I liked # 19

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  5. well I suppose one could always give advice on how to write…..or counsel people on how to give writing advice…or consult on how to assist writing consulants…….

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  6. Yes, as a Corporate Event Photographer I feel for you when you speak about ‘bid sites’. Places like Craigslist and other low bid avenues really reek havoc on Professionals of all sorts!

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  7. mandyf on said:

    I am an octagon because I believe I am. I also believe primates will spring forth from my backside at any moment so it must be true. If I had a dime for every time I heard this stuff from well meaning people, I’d have a big ass cup of dimes. maybe two. I haven’t done the math on it yet. People don’t realize that when you writte professionally, you need a break. You have to walk away from it some days. When you force it, you get crud. When you write crud you get frustrated and write more crud trying to prove to yourself you’re not a Play-Doh crud factory. I don’t write for free just like contractors don’t build houses for free. I live on caffeine, chips and beef jerky (gave up the tobacco food group or I’d add that in) and I did my most productive work with a butt hanging out of my mouth, Ozzy blasting with a the TV on 5 feet away, the phone ringing off the hook, chips scattered all abut my torso region so I didn’t have to dig in the bag and garbage can sized steaming mugs of black coffee one next to the other so I didn’t have to get up.

    What was I saying?

    Oh yeah. Nice post and this is very good advice that should be tattooed down the front of well meaning people that are experts on writing because Reader’s Digest sent them a polite rejection slip for their Humor in uniform piece back in 1978.

    You need a cape and maybe thunderbolt type thing.

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  8. This is a great post! I was just talking to my daughter yesterday about this very thing . . . Seems to me “would-be” writers are writing these tips and they’re totally off the mark, in my opinion. They certainly do nothing for real writers who have been in the industry for two or three decades.

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    • Of course, I’m not sure why those of us who’ve been grinding it out for a decade or three are still looking for tips … you’d think we knew what we were doing by now! But for some reason I still feel compelled to read ’em. Clearly it’s for the entertainment value.

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  9. Hehe.

    Even though each of these was more than likely a blog post of mine over the past few years, you are right on the money with all of them. I literally lol’d through the whole thing.

    Perfect.

    Refreshing.

    Lovely in its brutal honesty.

    I think I might be in love.

    George

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    • Apologies if you’re the one I’ve been taking the mickey out of, George. Sweet of you to profess your love anyway. Are you an upgrade from my current squeeze?

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  10. Love it. I had no idea, until I started researching content mills, how demoralizing this industry is. What makes writing such a horrible line of work is that everyone thinks they can do it, therefore a real writer’s competition is…everyone.

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  11. Ah, I needed this today, I was just beginning to get frustrated with the whole darn process. I seem to have had the best success and the most money whenever I broke all the usual rules, and thought I should be following them for more success. Apparently not!

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  12. Nancy Ambrosiano on said:

    You said it. All those things that make us crazy, why don’t they just disappear in a puff of logic, once their stupidity is revealed? I finally gave up on the freelance side, simply couldn’t make enough money to make it work. On the good side, I like that I can afford to feed my horses now. On the other hand, I’m trapped indoors 8-5:30. Argh.

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  13. Awesome!

    I could come up with something clever, but I’m lazy!

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  14. You got me, dammit! v. funny

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  15. anotherthoughtfulweek on said:

    Love this. And it’s so true! I wrote a blog post in the same topic (albeit a lot less funny) – http://cantshutitup.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/why-you-cant-teach-writing.html

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  16. Hi Jessica — enjoyed your perspective on it, left you a comment! Yes, tips do not a writer make, but one has to consider the sobering reality that at least one publisher of romance books is now churning them out (reputedly) via algorithm. They’ve taken a successful formula and plugged it into software which can now vary the names, the setting, and the time period in a couple of dozen ways, for thousands of essentially identical romances. And we wonder why writers are a threatened species.

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  17. As far as “catchy titles” go, you took me back to a dark day in my career as a horse racing journalist. One evening I did what I thought was a somewhat interesting piece about a horse called Helluva Hush who’d recovered from an injury with the help of a highly innovative process involving stem cell therapy. When it came time to title what sadly turned out to be just another racehorse rehab story, I totally “owned” this baby. I knocked it out of the park! I bagged it! So I sent it in on time and boldly: “HELLUVA HUSH LOOKS TO MAKE A HECK OF A COMEBACK.” Not bad, eh? Sadly my regular editor was away on vacation and the other guy – horse racing’s answer to Salieri – one-upped me when he renamed it: HELLUVA HUSH ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY. Now why on earth didn’t I think of that? It’s tough being Mozart, but heck, the money is simply rolling in like the ratings on the OWN network.

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  18. I know … all that money management is certainly distracting us from our writing skills acquisition.

    Ham-fisted editors and their questionable decisions are a topic for another rant. I’ve developed a thick skin over the years, but sometimes when the magazine comes in the mail you just have to scratch your head in wonder over some of the red-pen decisions that have been made….

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  19. This was great!! and so true!! and thanks for saying that you’re only really a ‘real writer’ if you’ve been published! I’m so tired of people thinking that they are writers simply because they come up with a few lines of prose one night, and i feel like my whole career and effort is undermined whilst everyone thinks they’re a writer.. ugh!! I am a real writer because I am published and paid! Thanks for the reminder lol…

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  20. Great stuff! The very last one is particularly poignant to me: I do not write for the passion or need of it. If it were not for paying bills or the fear of getting a mundane regular job, taking orders from some moron, I’d not be writing. I just happen to be good at it. Yet so many writers I meet push this idea of self-importance. To me there is nothing special about writing . It’s like singing: most of us can do it and probably have a reasonable career if we apply ourselves.

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  21. Ann Danen on said:

    This is so true! Loved reading it and I appreciate your perspective!

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  22. Where the Fatdog Walks on said:

    Never realised that writing could be such a complicated process. Makes me glad I’m a mere blogger…or, if viewed from a different perspective, a writer without the inhibition of sentence structure, punctuation or spelling. 😀

    …oh yes…and a purveyor of puerile emoticons.

    Thoroughly enjoyable post! A number of the more logical points you commented upon reminded me of the WordPress epistle on on to acquire more blog followers, or as it is sometimes known – mind numbing common sense. I always wonder if people read these statements while at the same time nodding sagely at each glaringly obvious point. Worrying prospect.

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  23. Loved this! Have just discovered your blog so off to read more.
    Best wishes, Linda

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  24. Pingback: EditFish » Weekend reading

  25. olga on said:

    Hi I believe you’ve said it in a nutshell. Some people believe they are experts but they haven’t submitted any stories for publication anywhere, be it on the web or hard copy. And some of them teach writing. I’ve been writing for years and I am still learning. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.
    Olga

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  26. Great post! I agree with everything except number 14. I don’t think it’s right to tell someone that they aren’t considered a writer unless they are published. A writer is someone who writes. I know someone who has written seven novels, and she’s never even thought about getting them published because she’s too nervous about sticking them out in the real world. Maybe that makes her a chicken, but just because she doesn’t want exposure doesn’t mean she isn’t a writer. In fact I think it makes her more of a writer than some of the others who write just for the sake of publication.

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  27. Bravo – that’s all just Bravo 🙂

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  28. Pingback: Loathsome Writing Advice | Chief Writing Wolf

  29. Karen, thanks for the – uh – advice. I posted this on my own blog – with all due credit and respect of course. And, I must add that you look strikingly young in your photo! No older than 29 I’d say.

    http://chiefwritingwolf.com/2012/05/20/loathsome-writing-advice/

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  30. Love this post. Love it! I want to wrap my arms around you and squeeze you tightly.
    I am one of those aspiring writers that has already dappled in mills and contest sites trying in desperation to get my foot in the door… to no avail.
    I enjoyed reading this and will be back to read more. I will be spending less time on blogs that spew advice, and try and not “re-blog” the same airy-fairy bologna. (Though I probably already have…)

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  31. You are so right! Most of the tips out there are pure garbage. Thanks for putting it out there.

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  32. Pingback: Exposing Myself « Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

  33. Pingback: Weekend reading | Where in the World?

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