What's the best writing advice I've ever gotten? In many cases, it's the same as the worst advice I've ever gotten. For starters:
Write what you know.
Now, that's good advice. I know about the Southern Appalachian Mountains, about being a lawyer and a daughter and a sister and an aunt. I know where to find good food to eat (but not much about cooking it). And I know I like mysteries.
But when told to write what you know, it's tempting to think you don't know nearly enough. So you wander off to research all kinds of stuff that you'd like to know ... and that you would like people to think you know.
That can waste a lot of time and can easily get in the way of your story.
So I'd modify that advice a bit:
Write what you know ... but don't get lost on the way to your story.
The other useful advice I've gotten? Ruth Cavin, my legendary editor, told me:
Write the book that's in you.
That's really good advice. It might not be the book anyone else wants, but at least you'll be happy with it. And Ruth, in all her years as a reader and an editor, had figured out that any writer's best book would be the one the writer wanted to write, not the one someone suggested she write or that the market was looking for at the time.
That's the gift of a writer's editor. I'm very grateful for that advice. Ruth also gave me another valuable piece of advice:
Walk beside your characters and listen in.
All good fiction (and most good nonfiction) starts with interesting characters. Those characters bring with them the conflict that keeps us turning the page (whether we're reading that page OR writing it!). We have to know them well -- and trust that they know the story that needs to be told. We need to stay out of their way and not try to save them from their troubles all the time.
|At the Apartheid Museum in South Africa.|
Use the BIC method.
The only real secret to writing is ... writing. (And, of course, reading.) The BIC method is my tried-and-true, patented and registered method: the Butt In Chair method, with pen in hand. Every day, whether I feel like it or not.
Inspiration ain't gonna chase you down in order to strike you. You better be waiting where it can find you.