Barmy’s bountiful bag of bad advice for writers

Posted on June 25, 2012


Nice alliteration, eh? Always use alliterations in your title; people totally dig that. It’s strange how so many otherwise excellent writers mess that up. I’m certain that Stephen King would have finally sold some books if he had just called it “Carrie Kills like Crazy”. Instead, the guy’s barely made a living.

Now, as regular readers know, I’m no stranger to bad advice; it’s kind of my specialty. Like your mother-in-law, I’m an expert at giving advice. In fact, I have a doctorate in it. And by doctorate I mean I have a blog, which is really the only prerequisite to calling oneself an expert.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m taking a bit of a departure from the parenting theme for a moment or two. Over the weekend, about a thousand people and I had fun tossing around 140 character bits of bad writing tips on Twitter. The hashtag “#BadWritingTips” was the number 1 trending topic world-wide on Twitter for at least a day and a half. As is usually the case with these hashtag games, I have no idea who started it, but I had a good time reading them all and adding my own. Thanks to whoever you are.

(This just in: Thanks to Jessa Russo, we now know who is ultimately responsible for me sitting on Twitter all weekend and getting nothing done. Jessa writes in the comments below: PS. Megan Whitmer @MeganWhitmer and Julie Murphy @andimjulie started #BadWritingTips yesterday, and then Megan started today’s #BadQueryingTips completely by accident. (I ran with it and forced her to be the proud mama of two very awesome hash tags.) )

I know that many IBMP readers are writers and it seemed like a shame to waste all that really good bad advice, so I thought I’d share my contributions with you.  In no particular order, here’s my advice to all you writers out there:

  1. Writer’s block is caused by a virus so antibiotics won’t work on it.
  2. Remember: if people don’t understand your writing, they’re just not the target audience.
  3. “Literally” is just another word for “Hey, here comes an exaggeration.”
  4. “Write what you know” only matters if you know a lot more than other writers.
  5. Remember: when in doubt, put an apostrophe before the “s”.
  6. Always write the ending first. Otherwise you won’t know what to write about.
  7. If it worked for Tolstoy it will work for you.
  8.  Add about 20% more words to your story. That way, when the editor’s done, it’ll be about right.
  9. When finished with your manuscript, search and replace all commas with semicolons; they make you look way smarter.
  10. Fonts. It’s all about the fonts. Fonts can pretty much make up for any crappy writing.
  11. Don’t start writing until you have t-shirts and action figures designed. Need to be ready when your book is optioned.
  12. All the good genres are taken. Invent your own.
  13.  If you don’t use a thesaurus every other paragraph, you’ll look like a catechumen.
  14. Write a bunch of sex scenes one weekend. Then, any time you get stuck in your writing, just insert one of those.
  15.  Always include a picture of your family with your query. Agents can’t resist that.
  16. Everyone writes from left to write. If you really want to stand out, go right to left.
  17.  Your mother really will be your harshest critic. If she likes it, you know the agent will.
  18.  Just do what I do.
  19. Step 1: get a pro bio pic; 2:  get business cards; 3:  tell everyone U write; 4: quit your job 5: stalk agents; 6: write
  20. Realism is important. Remember, the average person uses the bathroom about once an hour.
  21.  The real work begins once you’re published. No I mean it: you’ll be working at McDonalds.
  22.  Bold all your writing if you can’t be bold with your writing.
  23.  Hand write your MS and deliver the only copy in person, in its entirety, to the agent of your choice.
  24. Sure you can get rich writing in genres other than YA…
  25.  The first draft is always the best. Don’t mess with it.
  26. Non-fiction is just fiction with real names.
  27. If your manuscript is rejected, change the title and resend it.
  28. Plot is a left-over technique from when people didn’t have TV. You don’t need it anymore.
  29. Remember: the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black.
  30. Oh come on, how hard could writing be?
  31.  Just write a blog. Agents and editors will find you.
  32. “Remember, your readers can’t be sure who’s talking unless you clearly state it between each line of dialogue,” I said.
  33.  Most people couldn’t pull it off but you’d be great at the passive-aggressive voice.
  34.  Always do it the way Disney does: Kill the protagonist’s mother early.
  35. If you buy a million copies of your own book, you’ll be more likely to be a best-seller.
  36. Sure, your life would absolutely make a riveting memoir.
  37. Use emoticons in your writing. All the modern novels are going to have them.
  38. This is my genre. Go find your own.
  39. Don’t waste time reading. You should be writing, not sitting around reading other people’s stuff.
  40. Don’t write; become one with your keyboard and just let it flow.
  41. All the good writers sit around on Twitter on Saturday evenings because they have no lives. Wait, that one’s true.
  42.  Remember: authentic dialogue requires the insertion of “um” and “uh huh” with some regularity.
  43. Agents are way more likely to take you on if you send chocolate with your query. (You’re welcome, agents)
  44.  Make sure to tell your readers everything they need to know. If you show them, they might miss it.
  45.  Why be interesting when you can just use a different font?
  46. Always grammarize your work well.
  47.  Pick a writing schedule and stick to it. For example: every third Tuesday from 5:00 to 5:45.
  48. Quit your day job the minute an agent asks for partials.
  49. Write when drunk. Most of your readers will be and that way they’ll understand you better.
  50.  Naw, don’t worry about marketing; the publisher will deal with all that.
  51. I have a blog so that makes me an expert.
  52. If you’re not writing at least 100 pages/day, you’re slacking.
  53. Plagiarism is only if you use more than 3 paragraphs of someone’s work. You worry too much.
  54.  Yes, just because you think it’s funny, everyone else will too.
  55.  Authors get paid by the average number of words per sentence so use as many as you can.
  56. Cliches became cliches for a reason; why mess with a good thing?
  57. Start with a good cover. Agents and editors always judge books by their covers.
  58.  Yes, many successful writers got their start writing epitaphs.
  59.  One word sentences? Yes.
  60.  Plot is just a crutch for people whose writing style alone isn’t good enough to hold a reader.

Feel free to add any advice you have in the comments below.