Writer Wednesday: The Duality of Writing Advice
Hello authors and welcome to the middle of the week! It's a fresh month, chock full of possibilities. May is the first full month of Spring here in the Northern hemisphere, and aside from the slap shot of allergies, you can feel the change in the air. May is also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month here in the states. Lots of stuff happening but today, today we are easing into the month's posts with a small chat on the duality of writing advice. What do I mean by that?
Well, a two second google of common writing advice will pull up dozens of writing tips and advice. A great deal of it resonates across a common spectrum but these lists are also pieces of advice that have been diluted down to bite size chunks that often lack the nuance and depth. And writing advice is also 'advice'; these are not set in stone rules that must be followed but suggestions that should help you on your journey. Sometimes though, those lines blur and we forget to go beyond the face value of those bulleted quick tips.
Suggestion & Reality
Write Every Day
I see this piece of advice floated around often and the reality is: most authors are juggling jobs, life responsibilities, fleeting moments of socialization, and if they are lucky, sleep. Writing every day can feel like a pipe dream to some, never mind those who struggle with mental health issues, or just general exhaustion. Personally, even during my best spurts of creativity, I don't always manage to carve out a piece of time in my day to sit down and write words. And I feel guilty because I've carried this piece of writing advice around like spare luggage for years.
Some people do manage to find time every day, for words. Whether its fifty or five thousand, they manage to get something down on the page and more power to them. But authors who don't manage to find the time, energy, or inspiration to write every day aren't any less creative, or any less of a writer than those who do. I think the idea of 'Write Every Day' is also meant to encompass more beyond the idea of physically sitting down at a desk or at your computer and typing out a chunk of words. So much of what writing is happens in our minds, in how we mentally mold characters and play out scenes before they reach the page. In that capacity, I would say writers easily 'write every day' because even when I am not physically putting down a word count, I am plotting. I visualize scenes while I do housework. I have mental chats with my characters, teasing and coaxing their reactions in various situations.
The act of writing itself is often 70% mental, 20% physically drafting and 10% waffling back and forth whether your draft is terrible. Or that last 10% could just be me, but I know plenty who feel that same push and pull struggle of translating what is in your mind onto the page. The reality of this piece of writing advice is not 'Write Every Day' though 'Steep Your Self in the Mentality of Writing Every Day' is a more of a mouthful. What it really comes down to is expanding on the idea of what 'writing' entails, and remembering that those mental gymnastics you perform while creating your characters and story are part of the process.
Write What You Know
Ah, the old adage of 'write what you know.' This is an oft misconstrued and misinterpreted piece of advice that I've even seen used in back lash arguments in the writing community. While some of that may come from a willful misinterpretation of what 'write what you know' is supposed to do, sometimes it's a mistake of taking the advice at face value (to give some the benefit of the doubt). Though I can't stress enough, advice is suggestion, not a rule.
Writing what you know is an excellent piece of advice when it comes from a place of creating an authentic voice. All of us have authentic experiences. We've all experienced unique lives, a blend of our upbringing, our education, our friendships, our geographic location, and the world view that changes and morphs as we grow older and expand our awareness of the world around us. We often 'know' much more than we give ourselves credit for and that knowledge can be used to impart pieces of our experience and world view into the characters we create, but...
Write what you know is not where you are supposed to stop. As authors we seek to expand our knowledge and broaden our world view to help create a diverse range of mentalities among the characters we create over the course of our careers. That being said, I think where this piece of advice often hits a wall and diverges is when it comes to writing in a perspective that is wholly outside your own, whether that is from a sexual, religious, cultural, ethnic, or racial identity. It's not simply a matter of research to create an authentic experience outside your own, because you can't recreate that life experience and truth through reading about it, but to add a caveat, that doesn't mean you can't have a diverse cast of characters that are seen and felt through your own lens of authenticity rather than trying to force a perspective that diminishes your unique perspective. This is one of those pieces of writing advice I feel needs a much more nuanced approach than a bullet point in a list of advice.
Write for Yourself
...And a million authors cried out "Hey!" and were suddenly silenced... -Obi Wan or something
I might catch flack for this one BUT this piece of advice actually had some interesting counter arguments as I shoveled through the piles of lists. After reading those counter arguments, I have come to the conclusion this is another piece of advice like 'Write Every Day' where the meaning is lost in the space of a bullet point.
Two interesting counter arguments I saw for this piece of advice were 1. An author should consciously be writing with a mind to a story's marketability and 2. An author should be writing with their ideal audience in mind. The latter of those also made a point to call 'writing for yourself' was an exercise in vanity and that some authors believe they can write whatever is on their minds and then get frustrated that no one reads their work. I believe that argument is disingenuous to the root of what writing for yourself actually means.
Both counter arguments also shouldn't be ignored, because an author's audience is part of the picture. Writing for marketability is not something an author can wholly ignore if they are writing to sell books. But writing for yourself is not vanity because that ignores the realities of story telling and editing. I think the real value of this advice comes from an intersectionality of these three schools of thought. I think writing for yourself is rooted in the idea of writing genres, tropes, etc that make you happy and fulfill you as a creator. I very much support the idea of writing stories you, yourself, want to read and I think part of that ideal audience argument should be interpreted as seeing yourself as the ideal reader. Reading your own work from the perspective of the audience could help you see places to improve, such as weak plot points, under written character development, or scenes that need work. Writing with a book's marketability in mind doesn't mean you have to conform to any sort of genre or trope but that you should be actively thinking how you will go about marketing and finding the niche for your story. There are millions upon millions of readers out there; your story appeals to some, it is just finding a method to build your niche.
The Hot Take Takeaway
So my advice is don't take advice at face value. Ha! Yes that includes my own advice. I have written several advice style posts in this very blog and while I try my best to include the caveat of 'this doesn't apply to everyone' there is always the risk of being taken at face value. I try to encourage you to go beyond what I put here in the blog with resource links because I believe the accumulation of knowledge is also a personality responsibility. We should be the worst enemies of our own ignorance.
Today I made the conscious decision not to include resource links for today's post because I think you should Google writing advice (or Bing, is Bing still a thing?) and see what comes up. When it comes to the craft of writing, there are myriad ways to approach and succeed, no matter how conflicting the suggestions may be.