Episode 102: You Know Less Than You Think You Do

On July 4, 2020, Kasie and Rex were in the studio to take on that most American of all traits: overestimating your own competence. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Bad Writers’ Advice: Why are we so addicted to it?

Agenda

  • Patreon is how you say you Love.This.Show.
  • Why do writers keep asking for advice?
  • What really bad advice have we received?
  • Is there such a thing as “good” advice?
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

So we’re officially out of our June Patreon membership drive. Glad to have some new patrons on board. We also launched our Author Spotlights page on the site. You can become a spotlighted author on our site by becoming a patron of the show at Patreon.com/WriteOnSC

More spotlights to come this month but we’ve added Anna Fitch Courie, who has actually been a guest on the program back when we were allowed to bring people into the studio. She’s the author of six titles including the flagship Christ Walk, a book with a spiritual and physical fitness program to it. 

We also added CJ Heigelmann, whose work has been in contemporary and historical fiction. Crooked Fences is about a war veteran battling his own racism and PTSD and An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody is a sweeping, epic Civil War novel with multiple viewpoints and storylines. 

Welcome to both Anna and CJ. We’re proud to have you as featured authors in our WriteOnSC community and on our website.

Okay, today’s topic is Bad Advice. I know it’s not particularly patriotic or “a very special episode”-ness given that it’s July 4th but this really is the stuff that ruins your backyard barbecue. The inane dronings of the neighbor or family member you had to invite. The drunken slurrings of the know-it-all amongst you.

Bad advice is a sickness in the writers’ community. It’s literally everywhere: in books, online, in workshops, podcasts, hell, even on this very show. Why is bad advice so pervasive? Because:

  1. Most people doing this are doing it for the first time, even if they have years of experience, they’re a newbie at something.
  2. There are many approaches, paths, and best practices as their are successful writers, and
  3. There are as many unsuccessful, struggling, or hack writers out there to give you advice as there are astonishingly good writers.

Segment 2

Here’s what I know: Writers either want to get better at their craft or they don’t. If they do, they will seek advice, take most of it, realize some of it sucks, start ignoring some of it, but keep asking for it nonetheless. If they don’t want to get better, they’ll still ask for advice, but then mostly so they can contradict, ridicule, or ignore it.

So, either way, a writer is going to ask for advice. And, most likely, ignore it.

So where does that leave us? We are a show that talks about writing and occasionally gives advice. We make benign suggestions like “Get feedback” and “Don’t be boring.” But we also give really good advice like, “If there’s a gun in the scene, it needs to be put to use.” That wasn’t our advice, necessarily, but we did an entire episode on it, so at some point we probably gave it.

There’s a YouTube channel called Bad Writing Advice — it’s hilarious BTW — and it’s what made me think we needed this episode. Because when preparing to do Point of View for the SCWA’s Summer Series workshop this week, I found upwards of 10 channels that addressed POV in their writing advice. The videos range from 3 minutes to 30. So pick your poison.

Mostly, though, I thought, “Why are SCWA Summer Series writers still wondering about or confused by point of view? Everyone who’s ever given writing advice has talked about it. Give it a rest, would ya?”

So that led me to this: Who is asking for advice?

And the answer is, “Everyone.”

There are about 70 million blog posts being published monthly on WordPress alone. Roughly 409 million people view 20 billion pages of blog content monthly. Blogs have been rated at the 5th most trustworthy source for information on the internet.

So we’re reading them, we’re writing them, and we’re believing them.

Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s a scientific theory (supported with research) that suggests the least competent people are the most likely to overestimate their own competence. Sound familiar? It means the people who know the least will believe they know the most. 

This is rampant in every profession, not just ours, but here’s how it plays out in writing:

  • An Amazon search “Books About Writing” turns up over 100,000 results
  • A Google search “How many books are about writing?” prompts blogs asking “How many books should a writer read in a year?” — so writers even ask advice on reading. ::facepalm::
  • A YouTube search for channels about writing turns up a few videos where a channel suggests other channels you should be watching
  • And podcasters do the same: “Best podcasts about writing” Google search results list, in order, three blogs: “33 Inspiring Writing Podcasts” “23 Best Podcasts for Writers” and “20 Podcasts about writing that will have you penning a bestselling novel in no time”

We curate one another’s work, recommend resources, promote others’ advice — blogs, books, columns, articles, radio shows, podcasts, and YouTube channels. We perpetuate this advice-seeking culture. Why?

Maybe it’s because we love to talk about writing. Like athletes and sports fans love to talk about their games, we love to talk about our genres, our characters, our craft. It’s a profession, and a hobby, and an “interest” for so many people that there are thousands and thousands of rabbit holes down which to dive when seeking the conversation.

Segment 3

So let’s get to it, then, shall we? The worst advice out there:

Here’s the link to the Terrible Writing Advice YouTube channel. You have to admit it’s got a niche. The episode on Mary Sue explains why a perfect protagonist is the right choice for your story. Seriously, the sarcasm on this channel is exquisite.

Not lying, this blog breaks down the way advice is phrased that would indicate to you that it is, in fact, terrible:

  • Insisting something is “the only way”
  • Talking about work as it is market oriented
  • Anything that makes you feel bad about yourself as a writer.

Yep, the last one. Because any instruction you receive that shames you is bad instruction. I’m not in complete disagreement with that, but I think it’s worth discussing.

Then the blog lists some bad advice like so:

  • You must use an outline
  • Only write what you know
  • Don’t use adverbs. Ever.
  • Great work always takes a lot of time.
  • Don’t use a long word when a short one will do.
  • Avoid semicolons
  • Write how you talk
  • Don’t use tools or technology — for actual writing
  • Quantity brings quality (the more you write, the better you get)
  • Avoid giving character descriptions
  • Avoid rewriting
  • Write only for pleasure

There’s more on the list, but we can probably chew on these for the rest of the show.

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