If you’re a writer, chances are you know that when it comes to your profession, everyone likes to put their two cents in. For some reason, writing is a job that everyone seems to have an opinion about, whether or not they have any experience in the field. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of ‘advice’ that comes across as well-meaning (sometimes), but is just plain wrong…
Write what you know
Probably the most clichéd piece of writing advice ever, and up there with the worst. This advice is usually dished out by people who actually have no idea about writing, and is often accompanied by ‘shouldn’t you gain some life experience first?’ The answer is no, no to both ridiculously ignorant comments.
Writing what you know is a stupidly limited rule to enforce upon your writing. Writing what you know doesn’t automatically make your writing any better. I think the best counter advice for this is: Write what you’re passionate about. Your passion for a subject, a character, a plot… will drive your writing far beyond what you thought you were capable of. Passion is the ingredient that keeps you going, months, even years after you started.
The next time someone tells you to ‘write what you know’, ask them this: Had J.K. Rowling been to Hogwarts? Had Jack London been inside a White Fang’s head? Had Emma Donoghue been snatched from the streets and imprisoned in a shed? No. This list could go on and on, because writing what you know is not a recipe for successful writing. Passion, talent and discipline are.
If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too
Your reader hasn’t spent the last year or more combing through your novel like you have, so that’s just silly. I’ve seen this advice everywhere in the last year, and it bothers me – it just doesn’t take into consideration how hard writing is. Yes, we love it, yes, we don’t want to do anything else, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge at times, it doesn’t mean that it’s not work.
There are bound to be times, particularly if you’re working on something larger like a novel or a screenplay, when you’ve had enough – you’ve stared at a sentence for far too long or you’ve over-analysed the choices of one of your characters and you just want to shove your chair back and go lie down. Fair enough. I think comparing how a writer feels mid-way through writing a book is like walking in on an operation in progress – it’s not pretty, but the result at the end is rewarding.
You should get a ‘real job’
I have no doubt that we’ve all heard this one at one stage or another. What you ‘should’ be doing is actually no one’s business but yours, and if you’ve decided you don’t want a standard 9-5 job because you want to focus on your writing – that’s amazing. You should do that.
Working the typical office job doesn’t suit everyone. We all work in different ways, and are at our most productive at different times, especially creative people. Don’t let anyone but you determine what your ‘real job’ is or should be. There’s nothing sadder than a writer being completely and utterly miserable in a ‘normal’ job.
Being a writer is hard enough without having to deal with poor advice. In the end, only you can know what works for you and what doesn’t. You should check out our friend Kyra’s post on people belittling your ambitions, here, as well as our article on how to get your writing out there.