Many thanks to The Z-Axis for letting me share my thoughts here instead of posting a blog-length comment on her post… I’m so bad for that.
Take a look at the original post here: The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received
You back? Hooray!
What did you think?
Overall, I agree: when presented as absolute truth, these things are nuts. Write what you know? How boring would my stories be?! When taken more broadly, though, I think there’s merit to some of the advice, especially if we can agree that the advice should be used by those who benefit from it, and all others should feel free to ignore it.
If you’re interested, here’s how it broke down for me (if not, see you tomorrow for WIPpet Wednesday!):
5) “Outline your stories before you write”
DEFINITELY an “if it helps you” bit of advice. I outline… a little. I know where a story is going, but if my characters are doing their jobs (ie being real people as much as they can be), they’ll throw twists and turns in there that I didn’t plan, and couldn’t have, but that make the story richer. So I say outline if it works for you, don’t if it doesn’t. Easy!
4) “Set a writing schedule and stick to it”
There’s no way I can set a schedule and stick to it, but I’m sure it works for a lot of people. I have to write when I can, which is usually after the kids are in bed and when my husband is working nights, plus whatever I can squeeze in during the day. However, I think there is something to be said for writing because it’s time to do it, and not waiting for inspiration to strike. Yes, I love when the words and images are flowing freely and easily, but I’ve done some of my best work when I felt like I had to struggle to pry every word out of my brain. So in that sense, scheduling can work for me, and I suspect for other non-scheduley types. Just showing up can be half the battle, and a schedule can help with that… or it can just be a lot of pressure. Whatever works!
3) “Show, don’t tell”
I think it’s actually good advice, but very ambiguous. Of course we’re always telling. But as a reader, I’d rather a writer show me a character frowning than tell me he was angry. As a writer I want to make you feel the panic beating in a character’s chest, I don’t want to tell you “she started to panic.” The imagery doesn’t have to be complicated, and sometimes it is OK to tell, but generally I do think showing makes things more interesting (assuming, of course, that we don’t take it too far, as noted in the original post!)
2) “If you’re not depressed, alcoholic, or somewhat clinically insane, you can’t create a good story”
I definitely think this is weird. Are you supposed to go out and try to become an alcoholic to help your craft? That said, I don’t think those things are roadblocks, either. If nothing else, my depression is great motivation to keep writing. It helps. A lot. I think it has given me a different viewpoint and voice from what I might have had otherwise, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Just different. And depression kept me from writing for years- between that and young children, I had no energy or brain power for it. So not so good in that way.
1) “Write what you know”
I do write what I know. I know my fantasy world. I know my characters better than I know my friends, and I can tell you the history of my world. I know what my dragons eat and why they hoard treasure. I know my magic system and why things work the way they do, even when my characters don’t. Do I write what I know from experience? Sometimes. I worked headaches into my current work in a way that enhanced the story, and I know those from way too much experience. But have I experienced everything I write about? Pfft. How boring would that be?! It should never have to be “write what you’ve done” or what you’ve seen, or where you’ve been*.I think “know what you write” (even if you’re making it up as you go along and clean it up later) is a more flexible way of saying this one.
So it’s not the worst advice, as long as it’s interpreted as broadly as possible. I think my work would suffer if I didn’t know those things I mentioned; if my characters’ actions were arbitrary and magic worked because I needed it to. But yeah, writing what I know from experience would just be a lot of depression and poopy diapers. Siiiiick.
End of my thoughts for today. Add your own, and be sure to share the love over at The Z-axis!
(Be sure to check out “The 5 Best Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received” for more thoughts!)
*And for the love of all that is entertaining and not irritating, it should NOT be “write who you are” unless it’s an autobiographical story.