Write What You Know (if you know anything)

This is the first in my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense.’ Keep checking back here for more. In the meantime, visit Cow Pasture Chronicles for my guest-post introducing my idea of good Metafiction.

tinman

Frank Baum didn’t actually know a tinman.

A writer trying to follow advice as is like a kid living with parents who hate each other. Every time you think you’ve listened to the wisest possible words, and crafted your masterpiece accordingly, something contradictory comes along to spank it back to Penny Dreadful status. This profession (like many, I’m sure) seems to depend more on balancing strategies than relying on any single set of them. That advice you are getting may not contradict common sense as much as you think.

Let’s take the classic: ‘Write what you know.’ Anyone who’s ever lifted a pen, even if only as a student, has had their well-meaning Great-Aunt Mabel over his or her shoulder, espousing the timeworn guarantee that ‘writing what you know’ will launch you to the same lofty heights of popularity that she enjoyed in her Bridge club. The problem with that advice is simply this: Some of us don’t know very much. I know how to write, I think—though sometimes better than others—and if you give me six or eight weeks, I can get a recalcitrant English student to do his homework. Usually.

Other than that, ‘what I know’ might not be very literature-worthy: Continue reading