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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Terrible Advice By Famous Authors by Sarah J. McNeal

I can almost guarantee that any author here who has done an interview has been asked the classic question: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer? I’m sure some of us have squirmed and given the question great thought in order to inspire someone who might want to become a writer. We may even think about the advice of our sage and famous authors who have gone before us and the answer they may have given to that question.

Most of us see a quote by a famous author and we’re eager to hold on to that nugget of wisdom with both hands. I even keep a little notebook with these lovely gems written in it. I’m all in when it comes to improving my writing and being the best writer I know how to be. Famous authors have already blazed that trail, so who better than a well-known author to learn how to improve my writing.

But hold on a minute, do these famous authors always spout literary wisdom, or could it be possible that maybe, just maybe, they may have thrown out some really horrible advice once in a while? Here are a few gems by famous authors which may prove to be the worst writing advice ever:

Edgar Allen Poe

“Include a beautiful woman with raven locks and porcelain skin, preferably quite young, and let her die tragically of some unknown ailment.”
–Edgar Allan Poe

“Write only when you have something to say.”
–David Hare

“Don’t have children.”  (I can’t help it. I’m thinking about the History Channel program: People: Population Zero on this quote)
–Richard Ford

Marguerite Duras

“Writing is trying to know beforehand what one would write if one wrote, which one never knows until afterward.”
Or: “There is something exhilarating about successful, magnificent mistakes.”
-Marguerite Duras’s

Here is Kathryn Davis’s account of how she knew when to abandon a book-in-progress:
The very first novel I wrote was horrible, as so many first novels are. I put my novel in a box and hid it somewhere. I don’t even know where it is anymore. When you’re working on a novel, you have this idea that it’s not easy to write one, and that one of the things you have to do is persist through the difficult times. Inevitably, there’s always that moment when you find yourself wondering, “Well, is this an instance of a problem that I have to persist through, or am I just working on a horrible novel that I should just get rid of?”
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
— Saul Bellow

Ray Bradbury

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you are doomed.” —Ray Bradbury

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” — Kurt Vonnegut
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
— Oscar Wilde

“Don’t try.”  (Oh yes, this is a marvelous piece of advice. If we took it, no one would be writing anything anymore. We’d all be sitting around watching video games I suppose.)
— Charles Bukowski

“Write drunk; edit sober.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
— George Orwell

“Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” and “Same for places and things.”
—Elmore Leonard

“You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”
— Robert A. Heinlein

“Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.”
— Henry Miller

“You’re a Genius all the time”
— Jack Kerouac

“Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already.” (Yeah, like who needs Shakespeare, Charlotte or Emily Bronte, Lousia May Alcott, F. Scot Fitzgerald, or any of the other great writers who made the unforgivable mistake of writing that tacky and unnecessary fiction.)
— Will Self

Ernest Hemingway

“Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it. There are only certain words which are valid and similies are like defective ammunition.” (I guess I better not look up the word “similies” then.)
— Ernest Hemingway

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
– Mark Twain

Immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal.
– C.S. Lewis

All the information you need can be given in dialogue.
– Elmore Leonard

Grammar is the Grave of Letters.
– Elbert Hubbard

Maybe you have some terrible advice you found from a famous author—bring it! I loved these quotes. Just when you hold an author you love up on that pedestal, be prepared for the day they said something really stupid just like the rest of us.

 Sarah J. McNeal  (not a famous author)

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. “I'm not a writer. Ernest Hemingway was a writer. I just have a vivid imagination and type 90 WPM.”
    ― Tiffany Madison

    Of all the bad advice I read from writers, this one stood out. If you write, then you are a writer. Period. There's no such thing as a "great writer" that possesses some magical spark you don't. You are no less a writer than Hemingway. It's all entertainment, not fine art. We're all standing on a soapbox, shouting "Listen to me!" to the milling crowd.

    1. I do think many of us don't claim our due by accepting the title of "author" or "writer". We think those "special people" are just too lofty for us. Besides the usual requirements of just producing some great, imaginative, and unique stories which most of us can do, those who become famous wrote the right story at the right time and someone with the prestige and power to get them noticed saw their work. Was that sentence too long or what?
      Most of us are filled with empathy for the human condition and have a passion for writing. We'll write whether we're noticed or not. But it sure is great when someone not only reads our work, but likes it.
      These days, a writer also has to have some promotional savvy and spend time finding ways to get potential readers to notice their work that some of our predecessors did not have to do. We work hard for every book we sell. We do, indeed, deserve to claim our title of writer.
      Most of the best advice I ever received about writing came from other writers who are not famous. Just goes to show you, even the famous writers ought to think before they speak.

  2. Replies
    1. Every once in a while, Kristy, we need to laugh, especially at some of the things we take so seriously.
      Thank you for dropping in.

  3. Sarah,

    For me, the worst writing advice begins with "Always" or "Never". The process of writing/creating art with words is not so easily categorized in absolutes.

    1. Well Kaye, the crazy author who hands out advice with an always or a never should mind his/her own business. Just like the rules for the English language, there is going to be an exception once in a while.
      Hey, thanks for coming by and commenting. I appreciate it, Kaye.

  4. I do love these, especially Kurt Vonneguts--and my very favorite of all is anything Elmore Leonard preaches. I sense a bit of tongue-in-cheek in some of these, which made them even funniers.
    Ernest Hemingway also said, "There's no such thing as writer's block--only lazy writers. Sometimes, I do believe this.
    I don't like a friend or even casual acquaintance to ask me for advice on something they've written. Trust me, they really don't want my opinion or advice--they only want to be praised.
    This was a timely post for me, as I'm in the middle of a WIP and keep thinking....I need some advice. No, I don't mean that. I do know I just need to complain to someone that I'm stuck.
    Thanks for a great blog!

    1. Ernest Hemingway should have been whipped for saying Writer's Block is just a case of being lazy. Of course we've talked about this before, Celia. It's about fear and resistance. When I had Writer's Block in the middle of writing Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride, I felt horrible about myself. I, too, believed all those negative things the arrogant writers such as Hemingway had to say about it. I might have taken to drinking whiskey like Hemingway if I hadn't taken a class on what writer's block really is and how to get past it.
      Oh my, I agree on the awkward awful feeling that comes up when a friend asks for a critique on their writing or advice. My mind starts racing on how to say something positive about their work that doesn't measure up and still maintain some sense of truth and integrity. A tall order that. I think it's rude to ask someone to do that.
      Me too, Celia. I'm at this crossroads with my WIP. I feel disconnected from the main characters and I need to amp up the conflict. That's why I'm backing off and reading right now. Sometimes just admitting I'm stuck lightens my feelings of failure. A writer's life is so internalized. It's all in our heads. On the other side of that, when I write something I'm really proud of, I feel filled up with endorphins exploding in euphoria.
      It's good to know even the most lofty authors have said something completely stupid.

    2. Sarah--I did this, too...sort of took a hiatus from writing on my WIP.I spent hours at night just running it all through my head, trying to get it going...but couldn't. So, I too, just read during my free time.
      I finished the cutest story--something about a Daddy School. A man finds a newborn on his back porch...I know, it sounds old hat, but it did not turn out that way. It was funny as all get out and touching, too. The way the author had that baby wrapped around the little finger of the big handsome successful man was hilarious at times...and the author painted him as someone with a heart of gold, but no one knew that.
      Anyway, it was a good break because now the story is moving along.

    3. What's the title and author of the book you're reading, Celia?
      Reading something different from what I'm writing is very helpful for me, too. I just have to mull this story around in my head for a while to figure out how to best proceed. It's something that cannot be rushed. I'm glad I don't have a deadline. I'd just go ahead and shoot myself if that were the case. That's one of the problems I have with writing short stories for anthologies--by the time I get the story premise for it, I can't develop the story in time for the deadline unless an idea is already formulated in my mind that just happens to fit the premise.
      Reading motivates me to write most of the time.

  5. I just laugh at some of the pinterest writing memes...


    1. I do love those, Denise, but I agree, sometimes I do have to laugh at them. It does take some experience and time to figure out which ones are absurd though.

  6. Some of them are funny, especially the way writing has changed since some of these authors wrote. I do agree with Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, and Elmore Leonard's advice though.

    1. I thought about the time in which some of them wrote their advice. Now that's interesting, Kathy, that you found 3 you actually liked. Mark Twain often throws out some humor in his commentaries. I'm so happy to see you, Kathy. It's been a while.

    2. Sarah, I loved this blog post. And although some of the quotes were hilarious and others downright idiotic, I confess that I, like Kathy Otten above, found some of them to be worthy advice. I've also been taking a hiatus from my WIP. Since it is non-fiction, I am not stalled in the story. I've been indecisive about which photos to include, and where; what needs tweaking a bit more before publishing; and getting pre-publication jitters in case my candid dialogue may offend anyone mentioned here or in the UK. This is why I gave up writing journalistic articles (which paid well). I did a lot of personal interview articles and I never had one published that I didn't allow the person interviewed to read the submission and request deletion of anything they didn't want printed. And of course, they often requested deleting the very best quotes they had given!

    3. Ohmygosh, Linda, I remember when I thought journalism was the highest pinnacle to which an author could aspire. I held journalists on pedestals...and then I saw how rude and intrusive they've become. Worst of all I see their intent is more about creating news than reporting it. So when I see how polite and obliging you are when interviewing people, Linda, I can see you're just too nice to be a journalist. What is the title of your WIP?
      I'm backing off my WIP, as well. I don't like the direction it has taken. Plot line needs tweaking. I'm in a bit of a funk.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing what you're up to right now.

    4. Thank you, Sarah, for your compliment. But wait until you read "Letters from Hull" and you may change your opinion! This is my WIP and it has been 16 years in the making. I'll be explaining more very soon. I thought of it as To Hull and Back for all these years but when I googled the title, there were three books published in 2014 with that title so I didn't want to be a copycat and called it what it is.

    5. So what is "Hull"? I like your new choice in titles, "Letters From Hull." You have my interest.

    6. Sorry not to answer your question sooner, Sarah, but I just now read it. Hull is Kingston-upon-Hull, a city is Yorkshire County, England. My husband and I spent almost two years there due to his job and these were my letters to family and friends while there, soon to be shared in a book.

    7. So Linda, this must be like a book of memoirs, only in letters. What a fantastic idea!


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