3 Popular Bits of Writing Advice You Should Ignore

Everyone has advice on everything. Take my advice: ignore most of it. Wait. That’s a paradox. Wait. Ignore that. Wait, that’s another paradox. Oh god I’m gonna be stuck here forever!!! I’m losing my mind!!

….ahem.

Of course, nothing garners more advice than the subject of writing, usually creatively (though the advice of “fix your handwriting it looks like a chicken stuck a pen up its butt and just ran across the page after drinking a carton of Red Bull” could also fall into this category).

There’s like, a billion blogs all giving you writing advice, from people you’ve probably never heard of (like Chuck Wendig, who is not only a prolific and pretty cool writer, but also gives great bits of advice like this entry here) and then some more famous (like Stephen King’s excellent On Writing book).

Most of the advice is pretty good. However, being that I was in an MFA program, and that the internet exists, I’ve also heard a lot of really BAD pieces of advice that, unfortunately, some people have actually listened to. Here’s a few bits I’ve heard floating around the writing world that I vehemently disagree with, and reasons why you should, too (aside from I’ll love you forever).

1) “You don’t have to be published to be a writer.”

I forget where I saw this, probably on something related to an MFA blog, or an Instagram post, or something else stupid. I’ve also seen “publications do not equal success” and other forms of that mantra. Essentially, if you’re a writer, man, it don’t matter if you’ve never published anything, cuz they can’t take away what’s in your SOUL (or something new age-y like that).

Here’s why it’s stupid: have you ever met a carpenter who hasn’t built something? Or a painter whose art was never hung up on a wall in a home other than theirs? Or, geez I don’t know, a doctor who never practiced medicine on a patient? Publication is not a barometer for success, that much is true, but you can’t be a writer without having had someone other than you read what you’ve written. The easiest way (or the hardest, really) is to be published.

Does that mean publishing is the end all? No. It doesn’t. You could publish one story in one podunk journal and boom, you’re a writer. But you can’t go around calling yourself something if you’ve never been recognized for it by a third-party. That just makes you insane.

And here’s the main reason I don’t like this advice: it’s advice for quitters. You haven’t been published? Well, so what? They’re all a bunch of idiots who don’t recognize true art when they read it, right? Wrong. You have to get published. You do. You have to make money from your work. Sorry, that’s how you form a career out of it. If you think that there isn’t rejection and failure and a whole lot of really hard work to put in in order to become a writer, then you don’t deserve to be in the writing business.

At least don’t call yourself a writer, if you just do it for fun. That means you like to write. It’s a hobby. But it doesn’t define you. Like, I play guitar, but I’m not in a band, and I’ve never recorded nor sold an album. I’m not a guitarist, I simply like to play it. I also like to write. And when I get those substantial publishings under my belt, and the money that comes with it, then I can call myself a writer. Until then, you’re a barista. Learn the lingo.

2) “Don’t get published in a bunch of small journals, aim for the big ones”

I almost never disagree with “aim high, miss low” advice. Always, always shoot for the top. No use in pissing away at the bottom. But this advice is just dumb because, well, competition.

How many people do you think send their work in to a medium-sized journal? Ten? A hundred? Probably closer to one thousand for every call. And these are people who have been doing it a long time. Or maybe they’re new. Or maybe they’re famous writers with two books published. Or ten. You never fucking know. You also never know what the reader will like that day. So that one piece you’ve been working on for three years, that you’ve polished and perfected and you just know it’s the greatest thing to come along since Haruki Murakami? Well, it’s up against 999 other stories just like that.

Your piece may be great, sure, and maybe it does deserve to go in the big journals. But here’s a really sad fact: no matter what the big-name journals say, they don’t want to publish something from a relative newcomer. Their definition of “new” writers include people who have taught English for years, and have been published in other journals that end in “review” or make soft illusions to Faulkner. They’re big name journals! I mean, think of it this way: if you had a journal, you’d want to publish the next Junot Diaz piece, right? Or Joan Didion? Not some guy named James Wiener (ha. wiener.) right?

Big journals are big because they get big names to help them out. Name-recognition is a huge part of the publishing game. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s logical, too: these places need money and big names=money.

So what do you do? Just try and get published anywhere that will take you? Well, my advice is, sure, why not? If all that matters is getting published, then why should it matter where you get published? You just want people to read your stuff, right? What’s the difference between ten people versus a hundred reading it, you idealistic son of a bitch?

Easy: you’d rather have a hundred people read it. But you can’t just get that right away. You need to work for it. Earn it. You need to start low and gain your way to the top. Ten people may read it, sure, but that’s ten people who can each tell ten people and guess what? There’s a hundred people right there. Your name gets out. Your story gets recognized. And, you get to add that sweet new publication to your CV, and lemme tell ya: a CV looks a helluva lot better with a lot of publications than, say, just one. Cuz that one could have just been a fluke, a lucky chance you got. Hell, maybe your friend works for Glimmer Train and threw you a bone on a story that isn’t your best. Who knows?

The key is: yes, aim for the high ones. But not just the high ones. Sometimes you have to date a few people not right for you in order for you to get the confidence and experience you need for when the right one comes along. Yes, lit journals are like love interests: you need a few under your belt, but too few makes you too choosey, and too many makes you too desperate. Choose smartly, but don’t be too picky. Who knows: that mid-level journal might be the one you get to third-base with.

3) “Schedule time to write every day”

Even the great Stephen King suggests this and, ugh, I could not hate it more. Look: I get the principle. If you’re the type of busy person who needs structure and routine to get stuff done, then yes, by all means, start scheduling your writing time.

But, if you’re like me, and probably a billion other people out there, schedules drive you insane. Routines make you restless. And knowing you’re going to spend every day from 8-11 in the morning writing makes writing feel like a chore. And I hate chores. My clothes have gone uncleaned for months, months I tell you!

My advice instead is to find time to write every day. Or, rather, make time to write every day. Here’s a couple helpful things you can do: for starters, if you like reality TV, stop watching it entirely. Seriously. It does nothing for you as a writer, unless you write for reality TV, or a blog that mocks reality TV, in which case, continue watching it, the boss is onto you.

Cut out those things that you call “time wasters”. Why? Because why in the FUCK would you want to waste time? It’s the stupidest concept ever. Either do something constructive, or something necessary, or something that brings you pleasure. I can guarantee those “time wasters” that you think make you happy actually don’t. Hence, the term “waste”. When has waste ever made you happy? Expelling it is the only time I’ve ever felt good about waste. That, and putting it in a paper bag and lighting it on fire on Mr. Newberry’s doorstep, take that you old coot!

So make time. Find time. Whatever. You have an hour to kill before dinner? Write. Half an hour? Write. Ten minutes? WRITE. Just do it whenever, wherever you can. Pretty soon you’ll be ACHING to write whenever you have a spare moment, instead of dreading the whole “ugh, I have to wake up at 7:45 just to edit this stupid fucking novel?” routine of your life.

Don’t agree with me? Ever go on vacation and schedule an excursion? Do you sort of dread waking up for that, even though you know it’ll be really worth the time? Exactly. Schedules suck.You’d rather just keep your day open, making sure you’ve got enough time to check out all ten daiquiri bars the resort offers. Yes, swimming with the dolphins is a memorable experience (especially if they find you attractive and suddenly feel amorous, hard to forget that trip to Maui even though I spend thousands of dollars in therapy trying to) and sure, you’ll enjoy it. But wouldn’t it be so much sweeter if you just walked by a Dolphin Swim Experience booth and said, yeah, I’m down to do that? Of course it would.

Unless you’re one of those people who has to schedule everything. You freakin’ weirdo. Seriously, that’s not normal. You’re not a normal person. You should go see a doctor, because you’ve got donkey brains.

-Warren