Brendan Halpin on Writing Advice
I'm not the first person to observe this, but almost all writing advice is complete crap. We writers are an insecure and vain bunch, and most of us don't really know why sometimes we sit down and write something great, and other times we sit down and write garbage. We dispense advice as a way to convince ourselves that we know what we're doing. So when someone tells you that you have to spend a certain amount of time writing, or that you have to write in a certain kind of space, or that you have to write every day, or you have to do pretty much anything, take that advice with a grain of salt. That writer is telling you what works for them. It might work for you, or it might not. The only thing you really have to do is find what works for you and do that. And, if you're lucky, you'll find that several different things work for you, and you can do them all.
I would like to address one piece of writing advice that I think is especially pernicious. "Write what you know." If everyone followed this, we would never have had such titanic works of imagination as Tolkein's Lord of the Rings or China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. (And more importantly from my perspective, I would not have been able to write three novels with female main characters.) Readers want your writing to feel real, or at least credible, but you don't have to live something to create a feeling of reality. I was never a teenage girl, but I wrote credibly (or so I've been told) about them in Donorboy, Forever Changes, and my forthcoming novel Shutout. J.K. Rowling was never a boy and never went to wizarding school, but she was able to create a boy who did who felt real to her and millions and millions of readers.
In Rowling's case, I think Harry feels real because his grief feels real, his crushes feel real, and his fear of becoming the adult he needs to be also feels real. So you can absolutely use your own feelings and experiences, and you can certainly write a novel about a person exactly like you in a place exactly like the place you're in. Such books-- To Kill A Mockingbird is one, or so people say--can be fantastic, but, from my perspective, where's the fun in that? I have to be myself in my real life--why would I want to limit myself to that in my writing? Part of the beauty, power, and fun of creating any kind of art is bridging the space that separates you from other people, from other places, from other experiences. So, please, write credibly, but don't limit yourself to writing what you know. Write whatever the hell you want.
Or don't. As I said at the beginning, most writing advice is crap.
Thanks so much, Brendan, for the terrific guest post.
I don't know about you all, but I loved the blunt and forward approach he seemed to take when writing this. Plus, he's absolutely right. I've started two books and a short story and the situations aren't anything I would know about from personal experience. Especially the historical fiction novel I'm working on that takes place in WWII. Part of the joy of writing is getting to learn more about what your writing while you write it. At least, that's my opinion. So like Brendan said, write what you want to write about; don't restrict yourself to what you already know.
In case you missed it and would like to check it out, you can read my interview with Brendan Halpin HERE and my review of Forever Changes HERE. Also, keep your eyes open because I'll be having a giveaway for Forever Changes going up soon.