A post by Jonathan
If you’re anything like me, when it comes to writing you want to know that you’re doing things right. This usually means seeking out as much advice as you possibly can, from anyone you can. In my quest for writing knowledge, I've come across three pieces of advice (dare I say, gospel…) that are either so overdone or so unrealistic I choose to ignore them altogether. You officially have my permission to do the same.
Write What You Know
Really? Sure this might fly when it comes to non-fiction, memoirs, and some other genres, but for most of us –we Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers for instance— this is a little hard to do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never piloted a spaceship, visited an alien planet, fought a Minotaur, or cast a spell. If we stuck to this rule, the only people who would be writing Sci-Fi would be astronauts, and something tells me they have more important things to do. And Fantasy would be reserved for psych ward residents and perhaps a flower child or two who went on a few too many LSD benders back in the 60's. Sure, if you have some expertise, by all means leverage it. But don’t feel like you can’t write about a certain topic or in a particular genre if you don’t have credentials in that area. That’s just impossible for some of us. I prefer to say, “Write what you can imagine,” and leave it at that. You can figure the rest out later.
Write Every Day
Okay, how realistic is that? Apart from sleeping and breathing – and perhaps taking a shower – I don’t think it’s fair to ask anyone to do something e-v-e-r-y d-a-y. I mean, what if you get in a car accident or your dog dies? Are you seriously going to want to sit down at the keyboard and bang out 1,000 words? I blame this one on Stephen King. He made the mistake of saying “write every day” in his writing advice novel/memoir, On Writing, and authors have been going crazy over it ever since. I think his point was, if you want to be a serious writer then take your writing seriously. But there are some days, weeks, even months that you won’t be able to write. AND I FOR ONE AM NOT GOING TO FEEL GUILTY ANYMORE, MR. KING! All right, mini-tirade over. Just ignore this gem. If you’re a writer you will write. If you’re not, you won’t. Simple as that.
Show Don’t Tell
We’ve all heard this one before. And it’s not so bad, the first 300 times you hear it… But after that it gets a little old. Make that a lot old. I wish writers, bloggers and other advice-givers would start providing a “Show Don’t Tell Alert” like people do with spoiler alerts when reviewing movies or TV shows. That way those of us who have heard it 300 times before could skip to the more advanced parts of the article, piece, what-have-you. I’m not saying ignore it altogether, because it is good advice. But after a while, it’s like the friggin' Chinese water torture of advice! Drip, drip, drip. Everyone has their own take on what it means too, so in the end it’s up to you to interpret. If you’ve done your fair share of reading good books, you should be able to pick up on the difference. If not, I'm sure someone will "tell" you about it sometime, if they haven't already.
So, remember, if you come across any of this advice on the internet, in your critique group, or at a writers conference, feel free to ignore it. And while you're at it, feel free to ignore that advice too. In fact, that might be the best piece of writing advice anyone can give you: give yourself permission to ignore writing advice. Or don't. Totally up to you. That is all!