Normally we don't pay too much attention to tweets that go viral. But there is almost always an exception to a rule.
On January 29, 2021, author A. M. Hounchell tweeted the following: “HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Your writer friends are also your competition. Sorry.” Immediately, the writing and publishing Twitterverse responded in kind, igniting a weekend of arguments, discussions, and retaliatory tweets under the hashtag #HarshWritingAdvice. A ton of folks from various parts of the writing community, including some heavyweights, weighed in and shared their own writing advice.
Even a few Hollywood folks chimed in. Seth Rogen (@SethRogen) dedicated an entire thread to answering questions about writing. Some of his advice included, “Do lots of loose notes and outlines and lists that are low pressure and if you do enough of that thinking on paper, before you know it you have stuff” and “I firmly think you have to LOVE your idea or else you’ll burn out on it.” (Rogen's response to dealing with writer's block? “I smoke weed and watch movies that inspire me and remind me of what effect I’m trying to deliver to the audience.”)
The trending topic has, of course, faded in popularity, but we wanted to share some of the best advice and wisdom left behind by well-known, bestselling, and/or popular writers and authors.
Are other writers your competition…or your friends?
A number of folks didn't waste time dismissing the notion that other writers are competition. Instead, they emphasized that the writing community benefits when we all support each other. “The actual HARSH WRITING ADVICE is that it's really hard a lot of the time and your fellow writers are the other people who understand this and will help you get through,” tweeted Food and Wine senior editor and author Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip).
Other authors agreed, adding:
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Writing a book is hard and lonely, and if you treat other writers like competition instead of the community, inspiration, and co-conspirators they really are, the whole process will be miserable and your book will probably fail.
—Lilly Dancyger (@LillyDancyger)
Harsh writing advice: Your writer friends are an amazing source of support, and all your lives will be better if you appreciate and encourage one another.
—Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright)
Naturally, there is always someone who sees “competition” and takes it a little further than one might expect.
“HARSH WRITING ADVICE: You have to hunt and eat your fellow writers,” was Chuck Wendig's (@ChuckWendig) offering. “They will taste of Cheetos, pink wine and despair. But this is how the Publishing Gods are fed. Sorry.”
Less competition, more writing
Others were quick to remind writers (especially aspiring ones) that worrying about competition was less important than focusing on the actual writing you do. After all, the best way to create a great book isn't by competing for it but by writing it.
“HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Thinking of your friends as competition isn’t going to make you a better writer, because no matter what imaginary horse race you invent, you can only write what you write,” tweeted writer/director Jessica Ellis (@baddestmamajama). “So write it.”
HARSH WRITING ADVICE that a Black woman writer gave me nearly 20 years ago: Stop worrying about getting your writing published; worry about getting better at writing.
—Deesha Philyaw (@DeeshaPhilyaw)
—Jenna Guillaume (@JennaGuillaume)
My contribution to HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Writers write. That's it. One word at a time on the page. There's no romantic, mysterious force or beguiling muse that will inspire your genius. Sit, write, sweat, cry, self pity, edit, revise, finish, and then get up and do it again.
—Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli)
Lay off the social media
Is there irony in reminding other authors and writers through a social media platform that the writing advice is not to while away the hours on social media? Yes, yes, there is. Which didn't stop actor, director, producer, and screenwriter Zach Braff (@ZachBraff) from pointing it out.
“HARSH WRITING ADVICE: This website is the biggest waste of your time,” Braff tweeted. “Your thing would be done and amazing by now, but you had to click to see why Lil Bow Wow was trending and now it’s been 3 hours.”
Don't be a jerk
One of the more popular themes (and one we have seen reiterated in publishing circles) is the gentle reminder that kindness always works better than being a jerk. This is so important, not only for the well-being of other writers and the community but also because publishers, editors, and agents usually have a good idea who is on their good list…and who isn't.
“No-one ever survives in the writing business by shitting on the writing business,” writes award-winning novelist Joanne Harris (@JoanneChocolat). “That includes sh*tting on: other writers; on the way the business works; on gatekeepers; on trends; on genres; especially on readers. It's a family, not the Hunger Games. #HarshWritingAdvice.”
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Snark isn't wit. Cynicism isn't wisdom. And arrogance will open a lot of doors but get you nowhere in the room with anyone who actually knows what they're talking about.
—C. Robert Cargill, (@Massawyrm)
I don’t like this harsh writing advice thing. Sometimes this sh*t is easy, and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. You don’t need to be a jerk about it.
—Kim Kelly (@GrimKim)
Sometimes the best “harsh” advice” is nice advice
Most—if not all—of the “harsh” writing advice wasn't actually harsh it all, but numerous writers and authors still took it one step further. Because the truth is writing is not easy. Making it as a writer and author is not easy. So maybe this isn't the career that needs harsh words. As Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Emily Nussbaum (@EmilyNussbaum) tweeted, “Take more gentle writing advice. People hate themselves enough without extra help.”
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Writing is harsh enough. You’re doing great.
—Kosoko Jackson (@KosokoJackson)
have seen HARSH WRITING ADVICE is trending online today so here is mine: here is the truth i will not mince words and be very direct, YOUR WAY IS IMPORTANT, YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT, and YOU CAN BE THE WORLDEST GREATEST AUTHOR TOO listen to your own trot youve got this
—Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle)
More #HarshWritingAdvice tweets we saw and loved
HARSH WRITING ADVICE Think less about what you need to survive the process, and more about what the reader will need to enjoy the outcome.
—Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater)
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Give up on thinking you know when to use lay vs lie. You can 'know' and you will still get it wrong at least twice per manuscript. Your copy editors will never, ever be impressed with you.
—Kiersten White (@kierstenwhite)
My only harsh writing advice is that no one cares about your book as much as you do & you can’t control how your book is read and it’s best to have a sense of humor about it. (EG, Goodreads, is, ultimately, hilarious in that we are all doomed/art is meaningless.
—Zoe Whittall, (@zoewhittall)
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: At some point your editor will expect a ‘plot’ rather than just ‘characters looking at each other, very tensely’ for 500 pages
—Samantha Shannon (@say_shannon)
Your family won't read your book unless you tell them you wrote them into your book and even that isn't a given because they will read everyone else's book before they read yours and your mom will use your books as a doorstop
—Ellen Oh (@ElloEllenOh)
HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Your feet are not used in writing. YOUR FEET ARE YOUR ENEMIES. DESTROY THEM. DESTROY YOUR FEET.
—Gail Simone (@GailSimone)
HARSH WRITING ADVICE we both know you're not going to wake up early tomorrow to finish that thing. don't lie to yourself in 2021 the year of our lord and savior rihanna
—Roseanne A. Brown (@rosiesrambles)
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.