“Don’t listen to advice. Even mine.”
-Karen Cushman

As a writer, I want to be informed. I loathe ignorance and am not a fan of failure. I do my best to avoid the pitfalls. I want to be professional. I want to be a great writer. Basically, I want to prove to the publishing world and the world in general that I am not a yahoo and what I have to say is worth their time and maybe even their money.

But the world is a confusing place, full of contradictions and slippery concepts, and the writing world is no exception. Here is some advice that I hear over and over again from authors, editors, and agents alike.

Show don’t tell.
Just tell me what happens!

Pay attention to the market.
Don’t worry about the market.

You have to outline.
An outline will only stifle your creativity.

Join a critique group.
Critique groups are the devil.

You have to be willing to make changes.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to write your story.

Sometimes you just have to admit that it’s not working and move on.
Never give up! Never surrender!

Basically, this is all really great advice. The trick is to figure out what advice goes where and when and for what. I think I’ve addressed some of these contradictions in other posts, but for the next few posts I’ll be addressing these contradictions in detail. First up- our favorite, most common piece of writing advice..Show, don’t tell!


What contradictory advice have you heard? Or maybe just really bad advice?

p.s. Thanks for all your reading suggestion. I’m off to the library!


  1. Great idea, Liesl. There is so much information out there (and so many opinions!) that it can be really confusing.

    I always enjoy what you have to say.

  2. I recently did a few posts on the topic. Here’s one of them, with a link to the other embedded in it:


    Also, I think a lot of the time, contradictions arise out of differences in audience. For example, if you were trying to teach the basic principle of good nutrition, you’d say one thing to a group of chronic overeaters – and the exact opposite to a group of anorexics.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Starting my new job has found me with the same exasperated question: whose advice do I take? Be confident, be teachable. Be thorough, be brief. Take all the time you need, make sure you clock out on time. Use your judgment, make sure to ask if you’re not sure. Don’t overchart, don’t you dare underchart. Listen to the family members, the family members don’t know what they’re talking about. Find your own system, follow this form exactly.

    It’s maddening. But it seems that management of these contradictions is the conception of wisdom. And pulling out your hair is the sexy music that makes it all happen.


  5. Gave you another award, Liesl. Come check it out.

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