April 8th, 2014 / 10:51 am
Craft Notes

25 Pieces Of Writing Advice To End All Writing Advice

Most writing advice comes off as watered down and lacking both bark and bite. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the writer being hesitant to have his or her name attached to something potentially offensive. Very few seem to crave the public attention of being a curmudgeon spitting on the idealistic novice.

I’ve spent the last month contacting authors (both major house and indie; critically acclaimed and up-and-coming; big names and small; cock wavers and VIDA junkies) and a few influential editors, asking each to submit their most heartfelt, brutal, and honest writing advice they could think of. I promised to publish what they wrote anonymously. The following are the results.

1) Imagine an interesting and real fucking person reading what you write, not history or Shakespeare or your mom or your dick or your D&D club. Together with that, imagine everything you write on a piece of paper held in a stranger’s hand hovering over a trashcan.

2) Your pain is not valuable to anyone else.

3) Take your own life before writing your sad regrettable paltry novel, not after. People you know will think more fondly of you.

4) Write what you want to read. Write what your 12-year-old self wants to read.

5) You have to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life with only one other person. Each of you gets to bring one book on to the island for the other person to read. Write that book.

6) Distrust advice. Figure it out for yourself through reading, writing, life.

7) Take it as a goddamn miracle if anyone cares what you have to say. All your hard work means nothing because you mean nothing. Don’t believe for a second you have a right to someone’s attention.

8) My writing advice is: keep writing! Write a lot. Read a lot. Never believe what you write is very good. Always know it can be better. Feel pain in that. Always remember: your shit DOES stink. Let multiple rejections fuel you, not destroy you¬—there will ALWAYS be rejections. Listen and learn from better writers. Don’t be afraid. If you ARE afraid, do it anyway. Whatever you do, don’t write boring. Boring will never take you where you want to go. Remember that language is color, so PAINT.

9) Spend a month or two using all your writing time for direct correspondence with loved ones. Write unique, long, careful, descriptive, analytic letters to dear and old friends and close family members, and print them on paper, and mail them, only one per person. See what this does to your “need to write” feeling. If you still feel like you need to write poems, and fiction, and whatever else you write, for the public sphere, then go ahead and write it.

10) If you start thinking you’re good, that’s the first sign that you’re fucked. Believe it. Also: drink less, floss more.

11) The world is not waiting for your book. Nobody but you and maybe your mom or spouse cares if you finish it. Do it anyway.

12) Don’t talk to anyone ever again.

13) Most people have not needed art to live happy lives; recognize that art is a new myth and that most contemporary art is advertising and/or entertainment. You would have lived just fine without MOBY DICK, so why do you believe that the world needs your book?

14) Don’t write. If you can stop writing, stop. Take real risks for the sake of others that require you to leave your bedroom or office; tangibly help people. Only write if you are unable to stop.

15) Don’t forget that writing is a way to both escape and to stare down the nightmare of death.

16) Develop a close group of friends/classmates/lovers with whom you are intimately honest with. Educate each other through setting goals, readings, writing practices that keep you in an intense discourse. Let these people be your support, and guides.

17) Don’t get an MFA and title everything with some bougie title like Billy Pilgrim’s Long Halftime Walk or The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards or A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Don’t move to New Disney York. Work harder than you’ve ever worked and don’t expect to be rewarded. Don’t listen to anyone who gives you writing advice. Do it for yourself.

18) Stop using flashbacks. You aren’t using them well. Right now you think a flashback is a way to make a character interesting or relatable, but your characters should be interesting, vivid, lively, memorable in the present reality of the story or you’re screwed. Whoever wanted to hear the history a person they don’t find interesting?

19) Work for very little pay in a corporate office for 40 hours a week and never ever go back to the classroom to teach poetry or anything else unless it’s gym class or to supervise a cafeteria. Stay at your corporate office job for the rest of your life and allow men to treat you like a garbage bin with tits. Smile and say, ‘sure’ when they ask you to clean the breakroom sink because ‘that’s what our wives do at home.’ Then, when you’re 50 years old, go to a reading in New York City, slap a 21 year old twink with your sagging tits, and then write something.

20) Laconically lose your virginity, partially peruse Nietzsche, go and graduate from college, and move into a cheap apartment at the cheap side of town; now start a Tumblr, using one of their free minimalist themes, and begin liking the posts of whom you perceive to be your ideal peers, the ostensible “in crowd” to which you wish to gain entry; begin liking, favoriting, reblogging, and retweeting the respective content of these people, all of these people, all of the time, consistently for 2-3 months until you garner reactionary clicks to your own Tumblr, whose most recent post (at this point) should be a 0:46 second clip of you eating a mango alone in your room, with contemporary rap in the background. Click on the avatar of the first person to like your video, who may be on the masthead of a new literary journal. Do not open Microsoft Word, or Google docs; simply compose a new Gmail and begin writing down any erratic thoughts or feelings you may be having, using a line break every time a particular thought or feeling has ended. If you are on any drugs, please list them. If you have just binged on calorically dense food, or if you are starving yourself, please include those details. At the end of 16-18 of these thoughts or feelings, title the poem—call these sets of thoughts or feelings “poetry” from now on—by the most evocative or oblique line therein, and email the poem to the editor who liked the clip of you eating a mango; when, five days later, your poem is published, take a screenshot of the poem and post it to your Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, whose subsequent journey of likes, favorites, reblogs, and retweets will legitimize, perhaps even historicize, the publishing of the poem as some kind of formidable event. You will shortly be invited to read at a reading in New York City, reasonably located within a three hour radius of your current residence. Take a train to the reading, live-tweeting sardonic remarks about your fellow riders, and optimally arrive some four hours earlier so that you can indiscreetly have upwards to seven Pabst Blue Ribbons at the host’s apartment, gleeful footage eventually captured into a 6:13 min Vimeo whose main conceit is the pre- and post-reading fun times that everyone had, shot, edited, and posted by the host, who wanted you there because you are beautiful.

21) Write slower, publish less.

22) Maybe stop writing dumb fucking articles like this and just work on novels for the rest of your meaningless life and you’ll produce one meaningful one.

23) Make the connection early on that a life dedicated to writing and believing in the imaginary coming off the page as something real is the same as worshipping religion and a God.

24) Study poetry. All these books being published are by people who have no grasp of image and language and it’s so obvious. Study poetry and you will have an advantage. Start now.

25) Kill your outside self so all you have is your inside world to put on the page.

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  1. Earl Stamper

      Hey Shane, I really liked this article. One thing I use to help me remember how to spell “desert” with one “s” is that “dessert” is “so sweet.” I hope this little spelling trick helps you in the future like all of these pieces of advice will help me. Take care.

  2. A D Jameson

      The trick I learned is, “You want two desserts, but only one desert.” A dubious claim, perhaps, but I find the mnemonic works.

  3. Bill Hsu

      Excellent. Who are some of the authors? We should try to match them up with their advice.

  4. Victor Schultz

      i need to go back to church.

  5. Quincy Rhoads

      Beach Sloth just started following my tumblr. I’m halfway to succeeding at #20!

  6. Exurbbilly

      Not one shitty writer in the history of shitty writers has ever quit writing their shitty writings after hearing some bitter cynical indie-successful writer edgily advise that nobody cares & they should quit.

  7. Melissa

      oh god thank you.

  8. bartleby_taco

      #20 incredible

      wish i knew who wrote that

  9. Shane Jones

      philip roth

  10. bartleby_taco

      lol jimmy “philip roth” chen

  11. Critique_Manque

      So much grim-dark. People take the idea of writing too seriously. Like, imagine someone actually writes a bad, boring novel: the world will probably survive.

  12. A D Jameson

      I thought Jimmy wrote #19.

  13. JosephYoung

      most of these aren’t so good but it’s not so surprising. if it’s hard to be good at writing then i guess it’s hard to be good at giving advice.

  14. KopProphet

      No advice list works for all authors because people have different motivations and expectations. If you write for hopes of money and acclaim then #1 is right for you. Literary innovators and ground-breakers don’t try to win anyone over, least of all the lowest common denominator stranger hovering over a trashcan!

  15. markbaumer

      poop and don’t be afraid it

  16. deadgod

      Blame weaklings and the friendless. Even if you’re not a “writer”.

  17. deadgod

      They’re their ‘there’.

  18. Melissa

      it is disorienting and painful to find that, at the end of a hopeful struggle which means everything to you, there are only a few leering, careless jokers waiting there to dismiss you, though your work can make very little difference to them.

  19. Shannon

      #4 I have heard before and is one of the pieces of writing advice I have held on to for dear life. It is a metaphorical blanky.

  20. Josh Goodchild

      I recently finished the first draft of a book type thing and found 9 much more satisfying. I feel bad for taking away poems that bring them happiness to indulge in a fantasy. Whether or not the fantasy is more or less legitimate remains to be seen.

  21. Jeremy Hopkins

      0) Remain nameless, can’t lose.

  22. mimi

      stupid me thought it might have been what’s-her-face

  23. mimi

      do you remember what your favorite book at twelve was?
      mine was ‘One by Sea’ by Scott Corbett
      still on my bookshelf

  24. Shannon

      Actually I do. It was my “adult” (as in it was fully annotated but not dumbed down) copy of MacBeth. It took me the entire summer to teach myself how to read Shakespeare. I don’t have that copy anymore though it fell apart when I was in my 20s.

      A close second that summer was the original Dune trilogy because it was the first huge adult series I ever finished.

  25. mimi

      oh kay shannon, way to make me feel dumb i’m still in the “children’s section” at twelve

      jk i’m impressed

      and anyway macBeth is ‘still’ and probably always will be my fave billy shakes

      : )

  26. Shannon

      LOL I was an early reader. If it makes you feel better I didn’t learn how to tell time until I was 15 and I still kind of can’t.

      My favorite is um….okay to read it is Hamlet but to see performed is probably a toss up between Othello and King Lear. I’m leaving work soon which is good because I will nerd out so hard about modern Shakespeare and some newer adaptations I’ve watched recently that were so good they made my bottom tingle.

  27. A D Jameson

      Given to me by a much older man.
      Still on my bookshelf.

  28. mimi

      Oh okay just don’t tell me you think kenneth branagh is hot

  29. mimi

      you can’t be serious?


  30. Shannon

      Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…I just made a very horrified face. Okay now I’m really going goodnight Mimi.

  31. A D Jameson

      Well, seriously still on my bookshelf ;-)

  32. mimi



  33. mimi

      i am never ever again thinking ‘serious’ and ‘A D J’ together in the same thought, in the same paragraph, in the same time zone, ever again!!

  34. A D Jameson


  35. A D Jameson

      That’s the man who gave me the book!!

  36. mimi


      not jeremy irons?

      ew ew ew

  37. Mark Cugini

      so true.

  38. Amy McDaniel

      The self-loathing spilling out of almost every one of these makes me physically sick. Small wonder it’s anonymous.

  39. Amy McDaniel

      (which is not to say it doesn’t have value & I’m sure it took a lot of work to compile. but jeez)

  40. Shannon

      My first copy of Lolita was a gift from a librarian. I still have it though it’s held together with duct tape and memories.

  41. shaun gannon

      the only grump i liked was #22

  42. Jeremy Hopkins

      I like snuffy smith and all, but I don’t feel as though this advice was all that “edgy” in its delivery.

  43. Don’t forget that writing is a way to both escape and to stare down the nightmare of death. - kommafeil

      […] Les dem her. […]

  44. Shane Jones

      i wrote that one. thank you.

  45. Richard Grayson

      “Most writing advice comes off as watered down and lacking both bark and bite.”

  46. James Embry

      1. Gary Shteyngart
      2. Toni Morrison
      3. Jonathan Franzen
      4. Padgett Powell
      5. J.K. Rowling
      6. Steve Roggenbuck
      7. Jennifer Weiner
      8. George R.R. Martin
      9 Giancarlo DiTrapano
      10. Dave Eggers
      11. Marie Calloway
      12. Ann Patchett
      13. Cormac McCarthy
      14. Tao Lin
      15. Kathryn Stockett
      16. William T. Vollmann
      17. Shane Jones
      18. John Green
      19. Tom McCarthy
      20. Amy Hempel
      21. Brian Evensen
      22. Shane Jones
      23. Alice Sebold
      24. Alissa Nutting
      25. Mary Higins Clark

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  49. Tanya C Hayward

      Hey Shane Jones, I think I might be in love with you…no seriously :) Adore 15) Don’t forget that writing is a way to both escape and to stare down the nightmare of death. Touche, touche. Right, back to my 20 hour a week job to feed the kid to write the blog to feed the novel, to, to….