Good Advice, Bad Advice



By Julia Ash

It is growing season on the Delmarva Peninsula which made me think of advice…

As a writer, I have encountered mounds of advice on fiction writing. And my senses cannot deny one truth: advice is like manure; some contributes to growth and some just stinks!

Discerning the difference between good and bad advice requires skill, coupled with a healthy dose of results. Case in point: If you haven’t reached success applying specific advice, perhaps the advice needs to be flushed!

I shovel advice into two heaps: sweet and pungent! Below are my assessments. (I have concentrated on sweet advice because, well, who really needs stinky advice?)


  • On inspiration: “Every writer needs to find inspiration in order to produce inspired writing. And sometimes, it can come from the unlikeliest sources.”

Quote by Leo Babauta in his blog 31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing posted on

My take: Even though there is an element of quantifying (like couldn’t there be 32 ways?), this is a terrific listing of possible sources of inspiration. My inspiration comes from books, movies, news (hard and sensational), as well as my career skills, hobbies, and experiences.

  • On Craft: “Inspiration is the spark that lights the fire of the story—but it is craft that burns away all its imperfections and hardens the glaze to a glorious shine.”

Quote by Paula Munier in her book, Writing with Quiet Hands.

My take: Craft is the intersection of quality writing and spot-on story structure.  Without craft, a writer is on a dead-end path. Here are my go-to resources on craft:

  • Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier
  • Plot Perfect by Paula Munier
  • Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland
  • Writing a Killer Thriller by Jodie Renner
  • Writer’s Digest tutorials/webinars by experts
  • On Outlining: “My writing flows much easier when I have a roadmap to follow. I need to know where I’m headed if I’m going to reach my destination.”

Quote by K. M. Weiland (author of Outlining Your Novel) from a Writings, Ramblings, and Reflections blog-interview facilitated by Faith Blum. Posted on

My take: If you are a successful “panser,” you probably know story structure as well as the composition of the fertilizer which grew your first-place tomato at the annual organic growing contest. (Having fun with the fertilizer metaphor!) As for me? I’m a “plotter” and outlining is my gardening tool.

  • On Storytelling: “Write who you are. Write what you love. Write what you need to know.”

Quote by James Scott Bell in his book, Just Write.

My take: I translated his quote into three words which I think smell sweet:


  • On Perseverance: “Your self-doubt is a jerk. It’ll jog alongside you, trying to convince you to just stop and lay down and give up. You can’t give up. Keep running. Run faster than your self-doubt.”

Quote by Chuck Wendig (author of Star Wars: Aftermath) in his blog A Very Good List of Vital Writing Advice posted on

My take: I didn’t realize how out-of-shape I was when I started this journey. Running faster than self-doubt requires practice, hard-work, and stamina!


Bad advice, in my opinion, is anything that attempts to quantify writing at the expense of its art form. (Using never and always are flashing warning signs.) Who would say: Always spray a crop field with “X” amount of fertilizer? Not us! We’d ask questions first. Who’s the farmer? What crop is being grown? Where is the field? How large is it? Any conditions affecting it? Has it been fallow or overcultivated? …You get the picture!

Below are two nuggets of advice. I read them recently and think they are pungent. (I’m not quoting here—to avoid having to name the source, but I’ve done my best to relay the gist of the advice. Both were presented as rules of thumb; I guess that means there’s some wiggle room. Thank goodness!)

  • Sentences should not exceed 10 to 15 words.

My take: Look at the great novels you are reading. I’d bet that sentence length varies—significantly—on each page. The appropriate length reflects rhythm, voice, atmosphere, level of tension/action, etc. And quite frankly, if every sentence followed this rule of thumb, I probably wouldn’t get past the first page.  (One of my sentences in this article is 30 words. Were you annoyed?)

I’m reading Station Eleven (a National Bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award) by Emily St. John Mandel. One sentence is 56-words and it’s perfect! Another New York Times Bestseller (The Passage by Justin Cronin) has a 52-word sentence. Awesome! My point: Appropriate sentence length matches what’s going on and who’s storytelling at the time.

Try this rule of thumb instead: Be authentic to the voice of the storyteller!

  • Paragraphs should not exceed 100 to 200 words.

My take: I just read a paragraph that was 303-words in Justin Cronin’s The Passage. A paragraph in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is 321-words. In M. R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts, I read a paragraph with 3 words.

Sure, paragraphs vary—some are long and some are short depending on what’s going on and who’s telling the story. My point exactly 😊!

Be cautious of stinky advice! Reading novels, especially those which you adore, are excellent guides for what works and what doesn’t. Reputable resources help, too!

Thank you for reading this article and write on…


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