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Worst Advice For Fiction Writers

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

"The process is the prize when it comes to creative writing. Try to enjoy it."

The list below is for all of us who wanted to write but were stopped, slowed down, discouraged or hijacked by this "advice."

(1) Write what you know.

(2) Don't start writing until you know what you are writing about.

(3) Know your ending before you start.

(4) Know your audience.

(5) Know what people are currently interested in reading (i.e. what's selling)

(6) Never confuse the reader.

(7) Write every day.

(1) You know very litte. Me too. We only know the small slice of life we have lived in the small area(s) we have lived. Think of all the books you have read about characters and places the author never met, never visited. We make things up! That's the "creative" part of creative writing. Needless to say, with information at our fingertips now, we can research and "know" anything any time.

Instead, write what interests you. That will keep you going and that's all that matters.

(2) Writing is often the act of figuring out what the heck we want to write about.

I'd like to leave it at that but I've heard this "advice" so often that it puzzles me. As I said above, and will keep saying: (you can't stop me) this is "creative" writing, not expository writing. You don't need a well-formed argument, a thesis statement, and conclusion in order to proceed.

The only caveat here is one I am sure you have or will experience when you write without knowing what the heck you are writing about: you will need to rewrite many more times than usual. One of those rewrites will reveal to you what you want to write about. That's the point at which you are really beginning.

(3) Life is full of surprises, why shouldn't your story surprise you? The most fun a writer can have is when the characters take on a life of their own. To a non-writer this can sound a little crazy. We are creating these people and can make them do whatever we want. While we write we are God! * And yet...and yet they sometimes say or do something that we realize isn't right for them. We need to rethink. It can be frustrating as we race to finish our novel but actually it means our character has developed some depth and credibility. They don't care if it means more hours alone in your room re-figuring the end. And then, once you do re-write the end you may well need to rethink the entire plot!

Once you do this you may decide next time to figure out the end first! That's fine. It does make it easier to write. But if you don't know the end, don't let it stop you. Experiment.

(4) There is no such thing as one "audience." Unless you are writing genre fiction (romance, sci fi, mystery) many different kinds of people will like (or hate) your book.

Even within a genre there is diversity, if perhaps a little less. Publishers and editors and agents are always talking about this because they are in business and "audience" is another word for "market." But these days you can self-publish and gain readership without a publisher. Making money as a creative writer is next to impossible anyway, so why worry about the market? * *

(5) Chasing the market never works. Suddenly everyone is interested in vampires. So you write a vampire book. Guess what, so is every other wannabe writer. Meanwhile the current vampire market (who knew there was such a thing as a vampire market anyway?) is getting saturated and when your book is done so is the trend. Not to mention that if you're writing something that does not interest you it usually shows in the writing. (I tried this with romance writing.) In the end you will have spent hours and hours doing something you didn't enjoy and the book probably won't get anywhere.

(6) If you are confusing a reader intentionally, that's one thing. But if you do not realize you are being confusing, that's a whole 'nother thing. In that case, when you confuse, you lose.

But a little confusion or misdirection or incompleteness at first can titillate.

Some of us worry that if we don't make things very clear to the reader right from the start that we will lose them. That can lead to "exposition," meaning you are explaining and exposing too much. And this is usually pretty boring. Also, it tends to make you think you have to start "at the beginning," when, in fact, you should start where the story is most interesting.

It is more important at the start of your work to be compelling than clear. If you are clear but boring, the reader won't stick around long enough to get to the "good part." But if you are compelling, they will stick around long enough to get everything cleared up.

(7) Are you writing a term paper or doing writing creatively? Unless you are contractually obligated to produce something, and/or on a deadline, write when you want. Turning it into a chore seems like a great way to hate it and/or feel anxious about it. Someone famous once said "Every writer likes to have written, not to write." I can relate somewhat, but the truth is, usually I like to write. If you find that without a schedule or a plan of some kind then you won't write, then by all means, make yourself a nice little schedule and go at it. Sometimes you just sit down because you "must" and stuff happens. Once you know this about yourself, stick to it. Why not? But if the plan becomes something you dread, and the writing doesn't happen, then stop.

* For more on the topic of being the God of Fiction read my essay:

** You know those news stories about the writer who got a million dollar book deal? Think about why it's newsworthy.

(All I ask is that you think about it.)

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