The Bad Writing Advice that Kills Your Success

The Bad Writing Advice that Kills Your Success

The writing industry is rife with advice.

Some of it is great advice. Some is good advice, even if it’s fairly commonplace. But amidst the great and good advice is bad advice, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

The bad advice isn’t just bad – it’s often so bad that it does more harm than good. I’ve held the hand of many a writer as I coach them back out of the sucking quagmire of bad advice before they get pulled under by the quicksand.

It’s not always pretty.

It’s definitely always hard.

Want an example of bad writing advice? “Just do it. Get serious, buckle down and GET IT DONE.”

It seems like good advice at first glance. You think, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’ve been dinking around and not really done anything. I’m going to clear the decks, focus only on this writing project for the next three weeks, and I’ll finally be able to get this off my plate. Thanks!”

Don’t thank anyone for that. They’ve just chastised you, called you lazy and given you some of that “easier said than done” counsel. It’s not about being serious or immersing yourself in the GET IT DONE attitude.

It’s about getting it done right. In the right way, in the right environment, and at the right pace.

For writers, that goes double. Triple, even, because most writers don’t get things done at all. They go about their writing projects in the very wrong way, in terrible environments, and at a pace so unrealistic it’d make strong gladiators weep for mercy.

These writers clear the decks of everything, and they isolate themselves with singular focus. GET IT DONE. They shut out all distractions, from Twitter friends to loved ones. They shun baby steps and dive in, working every day, all day. They aim way too high, thinking that of course they can knock out a 20k-word ebook or a 15-email follow-up series, each 2,000 words long.

With the best of intentions and completely unwittingly, these writers immediately check 3 boxes of the 5 boxes on the danger list of the Perfect Storm. Right from the get-go. Straight from day one.

Bad things start to happen. Exhaustion, lack of creativity, mental roadblocks, self-sabotage, blank pages, staring at the screen and utter writer’s block.  Invariably, almost all writers ignore these red-alarm signals.

They grit their teeth a little more, put their head down a little further and growl that they’ll just push harder and bull through it. They need to just GET IT DONE.

Come hell or high water.

They get their wish. Like a perfect calling, hell and high water does come. These writers get behind on other projects that start to seem more urgent. They’re running up against deadlines. They’re not creating their best work and then they start to doubt themselves or whether they can even do this.

Maybe what they’re working on isn’t what they should be doing after all. Maybe they should work on something else. But there’s so much of it now, and it all seems equally important… maybe they’re just not cut out for this. What were they thinking?

The Perfect Storm hits. And writers sink fast.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, “just get serious and get it done” is really bad advice for writers. There’s a much better way to achieve your writing goals, and it doesn’t involve gritted teeth, isolation and 3-weeks of eye-melting, brain-draining work.

It involves people.

Isolation doesn’t work for writers – at all. You need other writers around you to make healthy progress. You need to be with writers working towards their own goals at the same time as you work towards yours. You need writers who understand what you’re going through, what you’re trying to do, who understand how you feel and who can help you along the way.

You’d be amazed what you can do when surrounded by other writers. It’s like having the clarity of an entire network of bright lights held high, leading you forward, each with its own intensity and spark.

Being around other writers isn’t just about having a group of like-minded peers to hang out with. It’s about having a community that you belong to and can tap into for motivation, support, accountability, guidance and help.

When you’re surrounded by other writers, you’re encouraged to do more. To try a little harder. To choose a goal and work towards it. To reach it. To get it done, so you can come tell the people who’ve been cheering you on that you made it. To feel proud as you get high fives from the people who’ve provided you with much-needed support along the way.

That’s how you get it done, as a writer. You don’t isolate yourself and go crazy. You wrap yourself with the right people who help you get it done.

Now, most writers don’t have this. They have some online buddies, sure, and they subscribe to some forums, so they think that’s their community of people.

But that only goes so far. Achieving goals as a writer means finding the right group of people – and the right type of writers – to form and build a community focused on helping writers achieve their goals.

Call it the Perfect Circle. Believe me, it’s a much better place to be than smack inside the Perfect Storm.

I know, because I see this Perfect Circle in action each time I work with a group of students in the Damn Fine Words writing course. At first, everyone shuffles around and shyly makes friends, but by the time we reach the third lesson, it’s easy to see the strong, bonding community that has formed.

Not just any community – a writing community, with like-minded peers working towards a common goal.

All students who actively participates in this community report MORE progress with their goals, MORE results from their efforts and big, positive impact from their words. They lean on each other, cheer for each other and create strong momentum that’s virtually unstoppable.

Here’s something else they do that’s really cool: they open up to each other. They talk about their struggles and uncertainties and roadblocks and sticking points. Not because they’re whining – they’re asking for help.

And they get it. Other writers share suggestions, stories, resources, even a pair of fresh eyes or some extra “I believe in you” encouragement. It’s beautiful to see these people watching out for each other, and many become lifelong friends.

This can happen in almost any community of fellow companions working together towards common objectives. But the true shift from hobbyists to professionals is the moment when the Perfect Circle results in tangible financial payoff – and it only happens when you add pro-level support and accountability to the mix.

That’s where almost every “mastermind” group goes wrong. They quickly devolve into empty praise and platitudes, because the balance between support and big “push” is missing.

When you have all of it in one place – the support, the good vibes AND the structure that holds everyone accountable to significant expectations… you’ve nailed it.

That’s community. And that’s writing getting done the right way.

The other day, I asked that you make sure you had some free time on April 28 – specifically at 4pm eastern. Here’s why:

We’re going to bring this community together. We’re going to create the Perfect Circle for writers. And it’s going to be awesome.

I can’t say more right now, but if you mark your calendar for April 28 at 4pm, I’ll give you everything you need to escape the storm and step into the Perfect Circle with me.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Great post! And a good reminder to get out of isolation to get the creative juices flowing. I find my best writing comes when two brain meld together. You know what they say: two heads are better than one!

  2. I’m reminded of a phrase after reading this insightful post … “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

    Don’t just do it, do it right. Excellent.

    • That, Joseph, is so very true. It’s a lot like house renovations – you can slap something together just to get it done, but you can bet that it’ll leak, lean and start to fall apart soon enough. Ouch! That’s a lot of work that just went to waste!

  3. My first book was about the seven marketing mistakes every business makes and how to fix them. (Actually, that’s the title.) I wrote it the wrong way. I had a whopper of a speaking engagement coming up in 6 weeks and wanted to have “product” to sell.

    I counted backwards from the speaking engagement, allowing 2 weeks to print with an online self-publisher. Added a week for God-only-knows-what. Plenty of time to write a 12,000-word quick read companion to my keynote presentation.

    I decided what the seven mistakes were and tied myself to my desk for seven days. A chapter a day. Do or die. [Spoiler alert.]

    I didn’t die.

    And the book arrived on time. I sold scads–enough to throw the cash on the hotel bed and literally roll around in it. Giddy and proud.

    Until people would ask me how long it took me to write it. Colleagues were holding me up as an accomplished example of the “just get it done” advice. “If Terri can go from idea to print and sales in 6 weeks, so can you.”

    The truth is, that book took me 20 years to write. I got lucky because I essentially put a keynote into book form. It’s still selling, mind you, and I get accolades all the time from readers who like the down-to-earth, real world tone and my irreverent voice. But, never again will I write that way. My readers deserve my best. (And I do, too.)

    That’s what happens when you sip the DFW and DFE Koolaid. I know more. And I know better.

    THE BOOK, the manifesto, the masterpiece is growing inside me. The one that will be done the right way. Starting April 28 at 4 pm Eastern apparently.

    • I love that story, because it’s a literal success story… that comes with a powerful lesson. (And Kool Aid. Only the good kind.)

      It reminds me of the time my big story came out, and I had an agent who wanted me to write a book. “Sure, I can do that,” I told her – and then quickly retracted when she gave me a deadline that wasn’t realistic or feasible for sanity.

      I’ve also heard from peers who’ve published books and they all say the same thing: that if they had to do it over, they’d never do it the same way they did round 1, because it was just crazy.

      (Got a title and outline for that manifesto? Inquiring minds want to know!)

  4. I can totally relate to your article, James. I tried writing a 10,000 word ebook by dictating it to Siri on my iPad. The good news, Siri dictated it pretty well. The even better news: It only took me a day to complete it. The bad news: It was all top of mind fluff. At best it was an outline for a future work. However, it actually turned out to be a waste of time. I ended up rewriting the whole book my usual way… a thousand or so words a day. Doing research, creating an outline and typing it in. I also found it was easier to write at Starbucks, with other people around.

    Taking shortcuts and forcing the words out usually doesn’t work.

    As a graduate from your class, I look forward to your community engagement.

    • Ouch – that’s a lot of man-hours down the drain!

      I think voice-to-text software can be really good, but from what I know of it, training yourself to be able to really use it effectively, in a way that gets past the mind fluff, takes a lot of time and practice. I know several peers who use Dragon, and they spent weeks and months getting to the point of REALLY being able to use it!

  5. Jim Pier says:

    “Just do it” hasn’t helped me, but one hears it from some pretty authoritative writers, so it’s seductive. Can’t wait to see what the Perfect Circle is about.

  6. Man. If you’re some other person and if i haven’t been through DFW myself… I would have dismissed this as another charlatan glamourizing her stupid online course with fake community.

    For an outside, it may be hard to believe but amazingly, EVERYTHING in this post is absolutely true and nothing’s exaggerated.

    I’m jealous how James could cultivate that strong a community BLAZINGLY fast.

    This perfect circle is going to be amazing. If someone’s looking to tackle entrepreneurial/writer loneliness online, this is the answer.

    • What’s funny is that I didn’t even write this post to promote my course!

      You know, all I really do is put the right tools in place, believe in it and work to facilitate the growth of a community… but community gets built by people like you, the ones who come to it and believe in it as I do and work with me to make it awesome.

      So thank YOU for helping me build that community – it’s great to have you in it!

  7. Hi James,
    I plead guilty to all charges.
    Creating unrealistic deadlines and then using that as an reason (excuse) to isolate myself.
    Then extending the deadline.
    Then giving up and doing something else that is much more urgent and important.
    Yada yada yada.

    Fortunately, I’ve learned my lesson and gotten off this downward spiral.

    Waiting for April 28 to roll around…

  8. What time zone, James? Need to work if I can make it, and how many coffees I’ll need to stay awake long enough for it.

  9. …Except writers getting together is like getting cats into a full bathtub. You have to hunt for someone willing to expose themselves to this process, you have to fight them to even get close to expressing yourself, and then you end up with scratches and a lot of blood loss before they end up hiding again.

    Then again, I often question how serious I am about writing. I am such a lone wolf introvert that I don’t think I can get involved with others anymore in person.

    Ah well, I’ll be tied up at 1 pm WDT when the circle is unleashed. Thanks for the offer though.

    • See, that’s a big part of what I talked about in my post – you need the RIGHT kind of writers.

      I know exactly what you’re talking about with the cat-fights that occur down at the lower levels of the writing industry, but no serious writer stays there long. When you elevate yourself above that petty silliness and start surrounding yourself with smart people who WANT to see you succeed… the whole game changes. And a lot of amazing things happen.

      Too bad you can’t make the date – would’ve loved to have you there to talk more about this!

  10. Fantastic advice, and when you read the story of the storm, you start to think ‘yes, i was there.. once’. Having almost been through Damn Fine Words (first time through) I can honestly say the community approach is just the best way E.V.E.R.

  11. Say James, you don’t have any inside track on Apr. 28 being the day an asteroid obliterates the Earth, do you? That does make an illustrative perfect storm for meeting a deadline (with emphasis on dead).

    Writing collaboration and community are good things; I’ve been collaboratively writing a short story with another writer for a month or so, and it’s been a fun, surprising process.

    Looking forward to your asteroid.

  12. ” Exhaustion, lack of creativity, mental roadblocks, self-sabotage, blank pages, staring at the screen and utter writer’s block. ” Holy crap…you’ve been hovering over my desk!!! How does one form this community? Must it be in-person? Or are those questions to be answered April 28?

  13. A very thought-provoking and useful article. I think anything that combats the feeling of “uselessness” that creeps up when you can’t meet a deadline or put down 1,000 words that make sense is the killer. I’ve always thought that the secret is to get a balance between being a natural writer (ie someone who writes willingly without too many anxieties) and someone with some kind of discipline.

  14. Hey James

    Nice post, I really like it. You nailed it with this one.

    The only thing I can say is that it is a really, really thin line between great story and bad story, between best piece of advice and worst piece of advice…


  15. Great post! Some advice does do more harm than good. I agree that the “Get it done” attitude isn’t good.

  16. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good advice on writing. I never thought of writing as a team effort or something social.

  17. Great encouragements. We all have pressures of life and need to produce. I see your points clearly when I think about many writers who have written one masterpiece bigger than life.

  18. James~
    I so appreciate both the problem advice you present and the solution. I have a mantra I repeat to myself and to other writers – Do It Together. I think it’s especially challenging for writers – and for accomplished and published authors who meet hardship in their middle decades – to reach out for knowledgable, compassionate assistance – and to be vulnerable in a group.

    But it’s really remarkable how in the right online educational environment such writers can open up and have the space and freedom to grow exponentially.

    Thank you for confirming that and helping me articulate this.

  19. I enjoyed your post and I’ve recently subscribed to the blog.

    I’m guessing you’re not a fan of Getting Things Done?

    I joined a writer’s group a few years ago and this made a big difference to my craft. The group since disbanded, but I’ve warm memories of my time as part of that writing group.

    Plus, their feedback improved my writing.

    • Hey Brian! Thanks for commenting, and I’m really glad to hear that your writer’s group helped you move forward. If you’re looking for a new one that includes a writer-focused ‘get things done’, you should check out Sounds like it has everything you might want!

      About Getting Things Done itself, I’m a cautious fan. It’s a good system, but it lacks some important parts that really help people move forward, especially where business owners and entrepreneurs who need to write content are concerned.

      For example, it helps organize tasks and builds a routine that prioritizes tasks, but it leaves out accountability, community and downtime – in my experience, these are crucial keys.

      So yeah – it works for many people, but I think there are better systems out there!

  20. I cannot agree with you more, James! Writers, like all people, need support. A community for writers where they can freely express, share, and help out other writers, sounds perfect. I’ve found other writers are excellent help to create buzz for your novel, as well. You can just give your book as a gift to a writer whom you admire or who writes reviews sometimes for other publications, but you’re just giving a gift. And you should also send to people in publishing who you just want to make aware of you. Using your community and creating relationships with others in your field is the best way to find help.

  21. Fabienne Raphaël says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for this great post!

    Yes, I have to admit that “Just do it” is not enough at all!

    As if it gives us a certain type of reward to have done it, but what if it is done the wrong way? Will people still praise us?

    We are so bombarded with “step-by-step really quick method with a minimum effort that will make you ___________” (it could be a perfect writer, a successful entrepreneur, a marathon runner, etc…)

    Doing anything the RIGHT way is essential in every aspect of our lives. If and only if we want to succeed. And it saves so much time.

    Surrounding ourselves with the right group of people is essential too, as you say. I truly believe that it is the one and only way to improve, share and be realistic about our work. It also allows us to get the right energy to keep moving forward.

  22. Thank I couldn’t agree with you more. Trying to use willpower to just get down and write leads to exhaustion. We have a finite amount of willpower, which varies person to person, so for some people, their natural willpower will not be enough to overcome the barriers that are causing their procrastination in the first place. They will then feel like even more of a failure when they can’t get it done despite such “obvious’ advice.

    I think identifying the barriers and making changes to your environment (writing space and support group) and developing awareness of your thoughts, especially beliefs regarding not being good enough and unrealistic expectations that lead to fear, self-doubt and procrastination. Using willpower uses precious energy that could be better spent in the creative process rather than trying to force yourself forward against a wall of resistance.

    Thanks for a great post!


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