When Writing Advice Becomes Too Much

First, let me say I understand it’s ironic to write a post about writing advice being too much on a blog about writing advice, but I’m going to be as ironic as Alanis Morissette—and as bad as that dated reference—and write about it anyway. Most likely to the song, because let’s face it, it’s in your head now too, right?

Second, I will say writing advice is great and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without it. If I hadn’t followed advice for forming a writing habit, my YA series would still be where it was five years ago—a sad, one book draft on my computer, rarely worked on with weak outlines for the other three books. Now the series, although still on my computer, is four complete books at various stages of not as sad drafts.

Another reason writing advice is great is that without it, I wouldn’t have started this blog. And without this blog, I wouldn’t have found the wonderful fellow writers that I have. Talented writers such as M.L. Davis, who does what her excellent blog says and inspires the uninspired. Without her help, I wouldn’t have improved my own writing. And if I’m being as honest as I am ironic, I probably would have given up.

There were a few times this year I considered putting down the pen. Sure, I’d received another generic rejection (after waiting 15 months!) and I’d been given beta feedback that made me question if I knew what I was doing as a writer. But it wasn’t these things that made me want to quit.

I’ve dealt with rejection in the past and will in the future. I’m also big on using constructive criticism to improve. It was what I had to do to move past these hurdles that had me considering walking away. It was the writing advice I had to follow to grow as a writer. The writing advice that became too much.

The rejection kicked it off. The feedback compounded it. The feeling I wasn’t a good enough writer fed it and the advice on how to be a better writer drowned me. Advice such as…

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Grammar has to be perfect.
  • Spelling mistakes make you look unprofessional.
  • Don’t open with a dream.
  • Stay away from clichés.
  • Your writing has to have emotion, but that adds extra words and extra words need to be deleted.
  • The opening three chapters have to be strong.
  • Your first line must have a hook.
  • Don’t info dump, but add backstory so we get to know your characters.
  • Don’t slow down the pace by getting to know the characters because that ruins the action.
  • Saying a character moved from their seat is stage directing. Not saying where a character is sitting doesn’t create a picture.
  • Writing emotions (i.e. he was angry) is bad and should be fleshed out into paragraphs. Those paragraphs will add to a word count you need to keep low but also at a certain length or your MS is considered a novella, not a novel. This also slows down your pace.

This advice, and more like it, doesn’t only overwhelm, it sucks all the fun out of writing!

Now if I can also be contradictory, I’m not saying don’t do these things. To be better you need to, and I’m in the middle of re-writes using this advice right now. What I’m saying is don’t do it all at once. Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point where you want to give up.

Concentrate on one piece of advice at a time, implement it one edit at a time. It might take longer, but to now also be a cliché as well as ironic, honest, and a contradiction, slow and steady wins the race!

Getting your writing to a publishable level isn’t fun. You have to go against your natural instinct to write a sentence that runs too long. Or pen a paragraph with too many commas (or not enough). But you do it because that’s what great writers do. That’s what every writer who crafted the books sitting on your shelf did.

It’s not fun and has to be done (there you go, I’m a rhymer too), so when it becomes too much…

  • Take a break and work on something else.
  • Write for fun and your eyes only, not caring about advice or rules.
  • Use the advice that works for you.
  • Don’t change what you love about the story. Instead, make it so good no one will ever suggest you change it again.
  • Listen to the advice that will help you improve even if it stings to hear it.
  • If the advice makes you feel like a failure, listen to it less, but try to learn from it.

Writing advice should help, not hinder you. If it’s making you freeze at the keys, step back. Re-evaluate. Remember what you love about writing and get back to that.

Don’t edit your work to the point there’s no magic in the words just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. If you—the writer—is not getting any joy out of crafting your words, how can you expect anyone who reads it to?

So for one last piece of advice that isn’t too much; use the advice that will help you reach your goals and forget everything else.

If there’s no joy in writing, you wouldn’t do it. And being a writer who doesn’t write is a little too ironic, don’t you think?

— K.M. Allan

For more contradictions, clichés, irony, and rhyming, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

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67 thoughts on “When Writing Advice Becomes Too Much

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  1. This is so true. Advice is important- in measured doses.

    One time I was writing as a volunteer for a big, statewide project. One of my peer reviews came back trashing everything I had done in one of my pieces. It was so devastating that I told the coordinator that she could find someone else to redo it. It’s not that the criticisms were wrong, but it was overwhelming and failed to point out any of the good parts.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love the line about finding the advice that will help you reach your goals and pitching everything else! I think so many contradictions come from the fact that writing is so personal and everyone’s process is different. Also congrats on writing four books in a series, that’s def something to be proud of. 😊

    Liked by 5 people

  3. This is a great post. It’s hard to strike the balance between learning from solid writing advice and drowning your own voice as a write. For example, I think it can often be quite effective and strong to “write emotions.” Writing, very simply, “She was broken,” can be just as powerful as describing the scene in detail. It can allow the reader to fill in their own perceptions of how broken-hearted would look on that character. Anyway, long story short: you’re so right about treading carefully around writing advice!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I’ve often had thoughts like these but rarely got past the resentment stage. Thanks for organizing them and making constructive suggestions for dealing with them. BTW, I have learned not to touch the manuscript while in the resentment stage. Taking a break is the only thing to do then.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. So true, Audrey. Taking a break during the resentment stage is vital. It’s often forgotten, especially if you’re on a deadline. I’ve been guilty of pushing through and really hating the MS by the end of my edits. A simple break and a chance to regroup could have saved me a world of grief.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kate, I love this post and I think you have it spot on. (And of course, thank you for the mention – it made my morning, and I wouldn’t be without your help, support and advice either!). Writing advice IS amazing, but I agree there are times when advice zaps away the fun or adds extra pressure. I actually think I’m at risk of losing my ‘voice’ because I write in first person and am trying to cut out certain words that I’ve been told aren’t favourable. But what if that’s how my character speaks? Sometimes the pressure gets too much.
    At the end of the day I think writing advice is just generally contradictory. We’re told all those things you listed above and then we’re told to break the rules! I think I’m in favour of rule breaking personally 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Meelie 😊. Yes, I’m on Team Rule Breaker too now. I have to be or else I’d go insane 😅. You’re most welcome for the shout-out, I meant every word. Your support and feedback kept me going when I was drowning in too much advice and confusion. And you should definitely write your characters how you want to!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m at the point where I consider writing for NOT publishing ever again. After having published the last book on a novella trilogy in September, I’m going to take a break from publishing my work, hopefully not from writing, but at this point I’m just not sure at all. And yes, too much writing advice is in the basis of this decision. Mostly because most writing advice I come across goes completely against the grain of who and what I am as a writer. Goes against my personal writing style, my writing voice. I don’t really question my capacity to write a good story, no. But all the writing advice on this day and age just hammers in the reality: I don’t write for today’s audiences, so I will hardly ever have an audience. I refuse to write in certain ways, that are shoved down our throats at each and every writing advice – be it blogs or other social media, even random conversations. I refuse that, because it will kill my voice. But I do get that today’s audiences want this type of writing, can only enjoy this type of writing, will only spend money on this type of writing. Hence, my work is not for today’s audience’s, and because I am aware of my incapacity of providing this, and listening to writing advice, I simply don’t want to do it anymore. Am hoping that maybe, after vacation, I come back with a different mindset, but even if I keep writing, am not sure I’ll ever publish again. Because all the rules on what is supposed to be proper and good writing just make me want to smash my laptop. Look, Stephen King is my favourite author and every time I read On Writing I kept rolling my eyes. Market is what trend setters make of it. There is a trend for a certain specific type of writing going round these days. It serves a definite purpose. And I do not condone that purpose, in fact, I refuse to submit to it. I’m also a conspiracy theroy buff, by the way ehehehehh

    Liked by 4 people

    1. So sorry to hear that, Ruth. It’s exactly the point I was trying to make with this blog post; that writing advice can sometimes drive you to the point of wanting to quit. I hope your vacation helps. I’m glad to hear that you won’t stop writing for yourself and hope you’ll consider writing for an audience again when you’re ready for it. Your audience is out there and it does include me, even when I’m taking a painfully long time to beta read your Arthurian saga.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My Arthurian saga falls exactly on that type of writing no one really wants to read these days: purple prose, too verbose, full of adverbs and passive voice, loooooooong sentences yadda yadda yadda. I love this kind of writing, it’s what I like reading best – George Eliot makes me swoon all the time, Wuthering Heights is me -but it’s just not right for today’s readers. Anyway, cannot afford to stop writing altogether as it’s like breathing to me – and with all the stories in my head, I do need to put them out on paper lest I drive myself nuts ahah – but yeah, the writing advice out there is daunting, and so many times contradictory. Please, do take your time, I’m having a hard time finishing that saga myself, but would like an opinion on that first rough draft mostly as to the story itself.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. All of that advice is relevant – and important if we want to become better as writers. It’s the advice about process – how to write, where and when you should write, to make and stick to goals, word counts etc – that made me come unstuck with my writing last year.
    Now, I lap up the technical advice, but avoid the advice that says what a writer is or isn’t.
    My all time favourite advice? Read, and read widely. It’s the most enjoyable ‘homework’ ever!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Definitely homework I’d be happy to do every night. It was the technical advice that got me unstuck 😅, but I can see how the pressure of word counts and progress advice can overwhelm too. Thanks, as always, for reading, Marie.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I think a lot of blogs giving writing advice is just for something to say because the writer cannot think of anything else and cannot bear to go a day without posting something. I see the same old advice churned out day after day ad nauseum. Whatever we write, someone or everyone is going to reject it, so I reckon just write what you want to!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I just recently realized how much I was telling and not showing. It’s one of those things that once you see it/get it, you can’t turn it off. There is a place for both showing and telling, it’s getting the balance right that’s tricky.

      Like

  9. One of the biggest problems I find with writing advice is there is just way too much of it on the internet coming from questionable sources. Full disclosure: I do occasional writing advice posts and re-blog them for content. That said, I try to make them insightful, and I’ve really slowed down on how many I do in a given year. Especially the ones about grammar and technical craft.

    It’s one reason that I generally take most of my writing advice these days from books that are widely accepted as valuable resources, rather than the internet. They are vetted and it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose.

    The other thing about all the editing advice, which I agree with you on, is while it may be relevant for self-publishers, the hard truth is that you can only edit a manuscript so much before submitting, and other factors such as networking, timing, connections, and pure luck will determine acceptance, at which point you’ll probably be working with a professional editor anyway. That said, even self-publishers should work with a freelance editor.

    Good post.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, B.L. I’m with you on getting advice from reputable sources. I also think all writers, self-published included, will benefit from working with a professional editor. Until you reach that stage, you’ve got to do what you can yourself and that means absorbing all the advice you can. But as this post shows, that’s when it gets overwhelming 😅.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good post, K.M. While reading through as those “do’s and don’ts” you listed, I felt like screaming! Rules are made to be broken. Everything doesn’t work for everybody. I’m not adverse to using a cliche here or there–people use them in real life. Just don’t overdo it. Grammar doesn’t have to be perfect in dialogue. And there’s nothing wrong with phrases or incomplete sentences in narrative (again, just don’t overdo it). Thinking about “I MUST do this, or I CAN’T do this” will drive a writer crazy. Stage direction? I always imagine my characters on stage, acting out scenes through action and dialogue. LET THEM LIVE on the page! Okay, enough ranting from me. Best of luck with your writing, and don’t sweat the small stuff (cut & dried “rules”). 🙂
    –Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Michael 😊. That’s exactly the point, there’s so many ‘rules’ about what you should and shouldn’t do, including learning the rules and then breaking them. Everything contradicts itself and can and does lead to driving a writer crazy! I’ve just been through all that and now I’m on the other side, not sweating the small stuff 😁.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Great advice. I feel your pain on this. I can remember quite clearly a couple rejections I got that seemed to have been from people who just took their first writing class and thought they knew everything about writing and editing. One said my flash story had too many -ly adjectives. I counted them; there were 7 and almost all were required since there were no alternative verbs to convey the same meaning. How do you write “rise slowly” without the adverb? The second was for my book. The editor basically said prologues were bad and they didn’t want anything with a prologue. Of course, they didn’t seem to have read enough of the work to know why the first section was a prologue and not a chapter 1. It happens. Just like there are poor writers out there, there are poor editors as well. You just have to brush it off and try again.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, JM! Your prologue issue sounds the same as mine. Book one starts with a dream. Everyone who had read it (editors, agents, and betas included) have advised I change it because “You should never start with a dream”. Everyone who has finished the whole book knows exactly why it starts with a dream and how important it is, not only to book one, but all four books. I’ve tried to start it another way, but it just doesn’t work and it’s not what I want for the series. So for now, I’m sticking with it and trying to make it the best damn dream sequence I can. Like you said, brush it off and try again 😊.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s part of the trouble, isn’t it? You can’t really pass judgment without reading the whole work and understanding how the pieces fit together. And yet, they read the first five pages and assume they know all they need to know. Good luck. I for one have no trouble with a book starting with a dream. It’s a better way of prologueing than dumping a thousand years of history in exposition.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sometimes I wonder if they even read past the first page, let alone five 😅. Thanks for the encouragement 😊. I also have no issue with prologues. They feature in some of my favourite books.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with beginning a story/novel with a dream sequence. A good many “editors” at even the bigger publishing houses are fresh out of college with a degree in literature or creative writing or English, etc. Most don’t know diddly about the nuts and bolts of writing. They’ve had “what works and what doesn’t” drilled into their minds until anything that doesn’t fit the “mold” is rejected. I say this through many years of experience. I’ve been traditionally published for nearly thirty years by the BIG guys and mid to smaller houses. My first book began with a prologue and remains in print (with Simon & Schuster) to this day. I detest all these damn “rules” the know-it-alls are so adamant about. One small publisher “loved” my manuscript, but wanted me to do a major re-write, listing almost all the reasons you mentioned in your post, plus some others. I know more about writing than he ever will (it’s not bragging if you can back it up). Okay, second rant over. 🙂
        –Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I totally agree. I found it liberating when I saw a quote about an artist the other day. It was along the lines of ‘painters do…[all the good things we’re taught] and then the really good ones ignore it’ e.g. Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian. Of course, you have to know what you’re doing before you can ignore it, but just going with the flow, sensing it, can be better.
    Then again… grammar and spelling mistakes… that’s a bit like ‘put paint on canvas’ I think. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Jemima. What a great quote. Yes, it’s a bit of a mix of nailing the basics (spelling, grammar) as best you can, learning the rules, and then breaking them if you can get away with it 😊.

      Like

  13. Kate, I loved this post. I, write an advice blog. But believe me, I’m no writing expert. So, I write about my ah-ha moments as I navigate the writing process. I loved your suggestion to avoid becoming overwhelmed, tackle these “rules” one at a time. Getting the story down is number one for me, fixing the flaws way down on the to-do list.
    One thing, I believe causes writers more heartache than necessary is choosing the wrong beta readers and editors. Giving a romance MS to someone who never reads romance is set up for disappointment. I learned this tidbit with my children’s picture books. Even small books need an editor that understands the genre.
    Thanks for a great post, reblogging at Jean’s Writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Jean 😊. That’s so true about having the right betas/editors for the genre. It definitely makes a difference if they prefer/are well versed in your genre. It’s much easier to get feedback that is helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Firstly, thank you so much for following my blog. I am striving to connect with other writers who are further along in their writing journey than I am and I’m chuffed you have decided to connect with me. I love your blog as not only do I receive useful advice, but I get a good feeling about YOU. This is what makes advice meaningful for me – when I feel a connection with the person offering the advice. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. All that advice can be overwhelming! I think it’s good to take a step back and just ignore all the advice sometimes 🙂 I try to stick with the ‘rules’ when i go back to edit because none of the ‘rules’ tend to flow in my first draft!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I love this. It’s a great reminder that I don’t have to be perfect, and I don’t have to fix everything immediately. I am definitely an “oh, look–a shiny object” type of girl, and trying to keep track of so many dos and don’ts at the same time only make me crazy. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Such a great reminder! Learning a solid foundation of the craft can be a double-edged sword sometimes; the good news is, it opens your eyes to the “flaws” of your writing. The bad news is, it opens your eyes to the “flaws” and then you freeze up and question the meaning of Life! Thanks for this great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. On one hand, you’re happy to see the “flaws” on the other, you can’t unsee the “flaws” and it becomes way too easy to get discouraged. Working through all of that right now, and I’m hoping I’ll be a better writer in the end.

      Like

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