Writing “Don’ts” from Top Authors

Recently I condensed my notes from 12 years of courses at the Miami Writers Institute and 12 years of building my own writing career into 12 days of emails. The notes from these courses contained many gems on the “do’s” of writing. But what about the “don’ts?” Some of the most interesting thoughts on writing – the pet peeves, the off-the-cuff comments – showed up in a simple search for the word “don’t.” Here are some things that top authors think you should definitely NOT DO.

“Don’t be a snob about who reads your book. . . Most books should be accessible to any intelligent 14-year-old. Most books should be able to be read by most people.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard: Structure, 2013
“Don’t start with someone deciding to go to somewhere and think. . . Don’t open your story with someone staring at weather. No watching clouds, waves, snowflakes, rain, etc. We don’t know the character so we don’t care.”—Ann Hood: Beginnings, 2012
“Don’t draw attention to the words at the expense of their meanings. It sounds like you’re pretentious and trying too hard.”—Rick Moody: Revision, 2008
“Don’t write about an “artist” that is really you.”—Steven Almond: Short Stories that Sing, 2009
“Don’t resolve your problems in every chapter.”—Benjamin Percy: Suspense, 2015
“Don’t give your work to anyone else until you think it’s done.”—Rick Moody: Revision, 2008
“Don’t have your characters sit and talk. Have them doing something and talking. How characters go about achieving their goal reveals how they feel about their situation and fellow characters. Think about painting a porch together… one could kick over the bucket… paint the same spot over and over… keep correcting the other’s work… etc.”—Benjamin Percy: Suspense: 2012
“Don’t make it hard for yourself structurally to access the information you want to give your readers.”—Tiphanie Yanique: Ventriloquy in Fiction, 2017

More about Ann Hood | More about Steve Almond | More about Tiphanie Yanique | More about Benjamin Percy | More about Jacquelyn Mitchard | More about Rick Moody

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