Monday, August 27, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: When to Resist Criticism, Suggestions, and Meddlesome Sane People

We’re all friends here. We know the world is full of small minded, jealous people who want to trample our dreams and squelch our deeply creative natures. Also megalomaniacal people who wish to hijack our work and transform it into something it’s not. (Everyone who’s snickering and going, “Yeah, something good,” should leave this site immediately, never to return.)

Anyway, in the quest to extend my really bad writing advice into new frontiers where only the wise have gone before, here are some helpful tips on when to stick your fingers in your ears and go neeee-neeeee neeee-neeeee. (Or, for international readers, whatever cool, culturally-appropriate sound you make when sticking your fingers in your ears and acting petulant.)

So, in the interest of becoming the only writer left on earth when my bad advice is universally embraced, this is when to ignore suggestions:

1.) When that’s the way it really happened. Especially when writing picture books that pass down cumbersome yet preachy events from your youth. So it’s incomprehensible. That’s what people said about Finnegan’s Wake – which I’ve always thought would make such a piquant PB.

2.) When you’ve already done every single thing that every single person in your critique group suggested, and now your mean Aunt Martha says that an elephant is a greyhound designed by a committee. Elephants are nice. Ask Mo Willems. Where would Piggie be without Elephant? Think about it.

3.) When you’re sick of revising. This is your helpful inner-voice telling you that you’re finished. Buying handbags online is the surefire antidote to being sick of revision, and also to the creation of literature. Screw it. Which would you rather have, a lovely new knock-off Prada bag or a horrifying sense that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and you might have to redo every single syllable?

Go Prada. Go Prada. Go Prada.

4.) When you’re pretty sure that every word that passes through your fingers and onto the page comes directly from God. Like the Bible, only a trilogy, with zomboid elves and without the didacticism.

5.) When small-minded people point to submission guidelines and shake their heads. As if publishers know what they’re looking for. Come on. So the University of Chicago Press seems to be saying they’re not in the market for zomboid elves. How do they know, until they’ve had the chance to peruse your stunningly literary but still hot zomboid elf sex? Like they’re going to publish yet another masterful history of the Civil War once they’ve seen your zomboid elf sex? Please.

6.) When you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Who has the finely-honed literary sensibility, you or them? Duh. (Unless they wrote Bird by Bird, in which case, shut up and listen.)

I’d offer some even worse pointers, but I’m in dire need of a knock-off Prada bag in stunning trompe l’oeil leatherette.


  1. So I take it the person who asked for an entire manuscript crit and then sent a e-mail advertising her newly minted book two hours after the crit meeting got her advice from you...:)

  2. You give such really good bad advice! (Is that an oxymoron?) I'd say that if anyone saw themselves in your list, they should back away from their manuscript. Thanks for a laugh this morning.

  3. Thanks, Sandy! I strive for dreadful.

  4. Now there's a wonderful phrase " I strive for dreadful". D'you mind if I pinch it?