57 Things I’ve Learned Not to Do As a Writer

The more you write, the more you learn about how to write. The more you “learn” about writing, the more you realize every writer thinks he or she is an expert. Ultimately, you end up with a lot of contradicting “facts” about what you should be doing to become a better writer (of course, better never actually means your writing is better; it just means you get published more by places of higher esteem).

Much of the feedback we receive as writers comes in the form of what not to do rather than what we should do. So what should we do? Obviously we should do the opposite of what we shouldn’t do.

Here are 57 things I’ve learned not to do as a writer in the past decade:

1. Write pointless intros to blog posts

2. Use first person

3. Use second person

4. Use third person

5. Use flowery adjectives

6. Use unnecessary adjectives

7. Use any adjectives

8. Rules 5, 6, and 7 also apparently apply to adverbs

9. Write in present tense

10. Write in past tense

11. Shift the point of view

12. Engage in head-hopping

13. Write about absurd things

14. Write about serious things

15. Submit unedited stories

16. Submit stories I’ve only edited once

17. Submit stories I’ve only edited between once and twelve times

18. Submit stories to The New Yorker

19. Use profanity

20. Write stories with no profanity

21. Describe what someone is wearing

22. Leave out everything someone is wearing

23. Give too many details about the setting

24. Give no details about the setting

25. Not have a setting at all

26. Create cliche characters

27. Create unrealistic characters

28. Create characters who fall somewhere on the spectrum between cliche and unrealistic

29. Write from a woman’s point of view

30. Write from a child’s point of view

31. Write from an old person’s point of view

32. Write from my own point of view

33. Write a story about a drug addict

34. Write a story about Death

35. End a story with death

36. Follow all the rules of grammar, punctuation, etc.

37. Break any rules of grammar, punctuation, etc.

38. Experiment for the sake of experimenting

39. Not experiment at all

40. Begin a story with “It”

41. Begin a story with a sex scene

42. Begin a story with a masturbation scene

43. Use dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward

44. Use unnecessary dialogue tags

45. Write dialogue using a regional dialect from a region other than where I live

46. Attempt to use a dialect at all

47. Respond to rejection letters with a request to rewrite the story and submit it again

48. Write more words than a story needs

49. Write fewer words than a story needs

50. Ask too many people to edit a story

51. Ask no one to edit a story

52. Write a story that is too Kafkaesque

53. Attempt to mimic any writer

54. Write a story that isn’t as good as something Hemingway wrote

55. Submit to writing contests

56. Self-publish

57. Write or submit anything at all

What are the “lessons” you’ve learned as a writer? Post your own bits of wisdom in the comments.


2 thoughts on “57 Things I’ve Learned Not to Do As a Writer

  1. Change all names to protect the innocent. Or the guilty (to avoid litigation). Write ‘shit’ if you mean ‘shit’ and not feces, excrement, poo, number 2 or whoopsie daisies (courtesy of the brilliant Louise DeSalvo). It’s not fair to ask your spouse to read your work. When you start spending hours moving articles around it’s time to step away for a few hours/days/weeks. Thank you for this though, it’s one part of exactly what I needed to read tonight.

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