Write What You Know and Other Bad Writing Advice

29 09 2011

Time just keeps flying past, doesn’t it? I’d like to say I’ve been
doing nothing but writing since my last post, but life as a funny way of
looking at your plans and laughing at you.

Oh, I have gotten some writing done, let’s make that clear. Just
not as much as I’d like to have done. That might be the never ending cry of the
writer though. No matter how much you get down on paper or screen, you always
feel like you could have done more. Even with working on a writing focused
course and working full-time in one city and then spending my days off in
another city packing up my house there, I still feel like I could get more
writing done. Not sure where, but there must be some place!

I seem to falling back into education mode easily enough. I guess
with being a writer, you never really leave it. You’re researching parts of
your plot, occupations of your characters and sometimes even the geography and
neighbourhoods that your story takes place in. Sometimes it’s to refresh your
memory of it, or to gain a new understanding of somewhere you’ve never been or
something you’ve never done. To write is to never stop researching and
learning.

Which makes me think of that often pulled out instruction to
writers: “Write what you know.”

My first instinct is to roll my eyes. If all writers wrote what
they knew, the literary landscape would be a pretty damn dull place. I’m sure
that C.S. Lewis has never been to Narnia, never met a talking lion or ever
encountered a witch beyond trick-or-treaters at his door. J.R.R. Tolkien has
never been to Middle Earth, didn’t speak Elvish or ever encountered a Hobbit.
Shakespeare was never a teenaged girl, ripe with emotion and doped up on first
love and had never been cut wide open by that first love falling apart. If they
all wrote what they knew, none of the masterpieces they created would exist.

Why would anyone tell an aspiring fiction writer to ‘write what
you know’? The whole reason someone is called to put something down from their
head onto the page or screen is because in the act of making things up, they’re
escaping what they know into where they want to be. That’s what writers do.
They make things up. Granted, it’s making things up with a lot of research,
creativity, plotting and re-writes, but when you get right down to it, that’s
what we do.

What writing advice have you gotten that you instinctively cringed
at? Conversely, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

 

 

*pic by kamikaze fowler, found on weheartit.com*