The Perils of Taking Writing Advice Too Far

By Milli Thornton

A long time ago, back when I lived in Australia, I was a member of a local writing group. Lots of really nice folks plus an interesting variety of experiences and writing styles.

One woman had written her memoir and decided to self-publish. She sunk a wad of cash into getting 5,000 copies of her book printed—an expensive undertaking back in 1989 before the days of print-on-demand.

One Saturday I was at the farmer’s market when I ran across this author sitting in a lawn chair with a pile of her books next to her. Wanting to support her, I purchased an author-signed copy and took it home to read. What happened next made me feel very guilty.

Her book sucked. She had listened to advice from the writing group and then taken it on as her mantra: Write what you know and keep the language simple.

Good advice. Usually. Unfortunately, she took it to an extreme. Her book was written in such plain language—and with such a lack of any excitement added to the tale—I could not even finish it. Even though this lady was such a nice person I felt as if I was betraying her.

If she had tempered the advice by spending plenty of time exploring her own unique writing voice, and then cultivating a belief in it, her memoir might have had more life to it. Instead, she wrote it the way she’d been told to.

Even the Judgment of Publishers Can Be Off-Target

A list of 30 famous authors whose works were rejected—repeatedly, and sometimes rudely—by publishers gives a dramatic overview of this. The list of 30 included Anne Frank, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George Orwell . . . I’m sure these publishers kicked themselves later when the rejected writer’s manuscript went on to become a classic and, in most cases, to make a bucket-load of money.

Had any of those writers taken the “advice” implied by the rude rejections and given up on trying to get published, the literary world would be a much poorer place.

Just because someone offers you writing advice doesn’t mean it will be right for you. Even if that person is a professional.

3 Things You Can Do To Avoid the Perils of Taking Writing Advice Too Far

1. Listen to your intuition. If you feel the suggestions will ruin your story, keep what feels right for you and discard the unsuitable advice;

2. Get a second opinion;

3. When seeking a critique, take preventative measures by choosing your reader(s) wisely.