Top 10 Worst Pieces of Writing Advice

I’m happy to welcome author Laurel Peterson to this blog. Today, Laurel discusses writing advice and introduces her latest release, Shadow Notes.

Here’s Laurel!

First, thanks, Joanne, for having me on your blog. Writing these kinds of lists is fun and makes me think about what really matters in terms of giving and getting good advice. Ok… here we go:

1. Write what you know: Two of my colleagues from grad school commented on this one: Dustin Lesperance said, “I’ve found learning new things motivates me to write more. I’m already bored with what I know… That’s why I’m writing in the first place.” Tiffany Ferentini said, “I just feel I don’t really know anything… what I know doesn’t warrant being written about. I find it much more entertaining and fun to write about what I don’t know.”

Although we are all always writing what we know at some level, I agree that it’s the exploration of new ideas, places, points of view that challenge me to push beyond who and where I am right now into new insights.

2. Write every day: Unless writing is your job or you are independently wealthy, it is very difficult for most people to fit writing into every day. The end result of this piece of advice is guilt for those who only manage to get a couple of hours in on a weekend. I find Julia Cameron’s advice (The Artist’s Way) to be far more useful: do it when you can. If you only have fifteen minutes, use it. It’s better than not doing anything. If you do fifteen minutes whenever you can, you will still pile up pages, which is the goal. If you do nothing, there’s no pile!

3. Write less about the domestic. This one came from a grad school professor. Can we talk about how many great novels are about domestic topics? Since when does writing about what’s outside the home count more than writing about what’s inside the home? Even though this was said to me by a woman, I still think this is a piece of advice that originates in patriarchy. Otherwise, all topics would be of equal value, right?

4. Make all your chapters the same length. Because?

5. Listen to me; I’m your professor. Ok, I’m a professor and I occasionally say things like this. However, each of us owns our own writing. We know what our intention is and only we can do the necessary work to achieve that intention. Sometimes, we’re not sure where we’re headed, or things appear in our work that we didn’t expect. Then, other eyes and brains can help us sort it out. But it’s a good idea to never, ever give over control of one’s work to anyone else.

6. Let me take you to lunch, and I’ll tell you how to get published. Beware the come-on.

7. Stop writing. You’re not good enough. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’re not right now. Maybe the person giving this advice isn’t your audience. I did a mentor program once with Mystery Writers of America, and the (well-intentioned) mentor commented on my grammar. I teach writing for a living. Grammar isn’t my problem. I did have, however, other problems I could have used help with. So just keep writing. No one gets to control what you do but you.

8. Don’t waste creative energy talking to others about your writing. Another grad school colleague, Donna Miele said about this one: “No, don’t spew to people who don’t care and are really just asking to be polite; or who just want to take you down for your aspirations. But keeping your ideas sacred and secret from other good writers? For me, that just stems from the fear that my ideas are no good. When I can form an idea well enough to express it as a pitch, that’s often my first step toward actually knowing what I’m writing about.” I think the source of this advice is that sometimes we use all our skills telling the story verbally, so that we don’t need to write it down any more.

9. Write for yourself, and don’t worry about audience. Yes, we write for ourselves, but writing is fundamentally an act of communication. Do we really want to talk only to ourselves? I don’t. Writing is very intimate, and sometimes it’s too scary or painful to share something. That’s OK. We don’t have to share every single thing we write. But writing is about voice, so let that voice have its full range.

10. Artists (and writers are artists) who are commercially successful (or write romance or mystery or science fiction) have sold out, and aren’t real artists any more. Don’t sell out; keep your art pure. Writers need to eat. It is not selling out to write so you and your family can eat. The romantic notion of a garret and a candle went out with consumption. If you continue to work at it, you will get good enough (if you aren’t already) to sell your work. Whether you sell enough to eat is another story, and so far, it’s not mine. But I write mystery fiction, and I would argue writing anything well takes guts, courage and perseverance, including that which is commercially successful.

The best writing advice I know is butt in chair, with plenty of rewards (chocolate, tea, massage, yoga, whatever you love). The more I focus on do rather than don’t, the more writing I get done. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? How about the best? I’d love to hear from you, and thanks for stopping by.


shadow-notes-cover-compressed-2Clara Montague didn’t want to go home to Connecticut for Christmas. Her mother Constance never seemed to like her—or her intuitive dreams about the people she loved. Clara tried to warn her mother that her father was about to have a heart attack, but Constance wouldn’t listen—and her father died.

Now living in Europe, Clara dreams her mother is in terrible danger, and can’t ignore it. Shortly after she returns, her mother’s therapist (and former lover) Hugh Woodward is murdered—and Constance is jailed for the crime.

Since Constance won’t talk to her about the case, Clara decides to investigate by cozying up to her mother’s former best friend, wealthy socialite Mary Ellen Winters. Mary Ellen insinuates that Constance has many sordid secrets to hide—and Hugh is just the tip of the iceberg.

Frantically seeking clues to her mother’s hidden past, Clara uncovers the file of “shadow notes” that Hugh maintained to document his sessions with her mother, but they are snatched from her hands before she can read them.

As Clara gets closer to the truth about Hugh’s murder and its connection to her mother’s past, threats against her own life escalate. Can Clara’s intuition help her peel back years of high-stakes secrets to identify the real murderer?



Laurel S. Peterson is the author of Shadow Notes for Barking Rain Press. Before Laurel Peterson became an English professor, she sold housewares, catered, managed advertising accounts, and worked as a tree company secretary. Her writing career has included a column on local history, serving as the editor of the literary journal, Inkwell, and two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds and Talking to the Mirror. She co-edited a collection of essays on women’s justice titled (Re)Interpretations: The Shapes of Justice in Women’s Experience. She and her husband live in Connecticut and Vermont.

Where to find Laurel…

Website | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Amazon | Barking Rain Press

19 responses to “Top 10 Worst Pieces of Writing Advice

  1. Thank you so much for this great post. Having heard nearly all of these in some form or another I am so happy to read a new perspective on the legitimacy.

  2. A very thoughtful blog. I especially liked the responses to “write what you know.” The worst advice that I was given was to never use “big words.” The word that the retreat leader was referring to wasn’t what I would call a “big word,” and someone could easily figure it out from the sentence, but I was dismayed with the idea that we should keep everything simple and pre-digested.

    • Oh, that’s another great/horrible piece of advice. I think that tells me more about the person who said it than about writing in general. Anonymous gift of a dictionary?? LOL. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. Any writing advice that is stated as an absolute. NEVER do this. ALWAYS do this. Writing is personal and whatever works for one person, no matter how successful that person is, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do something. Explore. Experiment. If something doesn’t work for you try something else. Break rules. (though I do suggest learn the rules first so you know what you’re breaking)

    • Right? I think it’s so easy, especially as a beginning and/or unpublished writer to get so motivated by publication that people who have some kind of authority can throw a writer off track–and it can take a long time to reclaim that authority over your own work. Thanks so much for commenting!

  4. This is great! I’ve heard all of these and couldn’t agree more. I want to write about things I don’t know. It’s my way of exploring. It’s like taking a vacation from my everyday normal.

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