As an aspiring writer, I’ve read many tips from writers and literary agents. There are lists of writing tips all over the internet. Some of it is really useful advice which I believe has helped me improve already. However, other tips are not so helpful and I’m going to describe them as ‘myths’…
Myth #1: “Write what you know.” It’s true that putting your own knowledge, experiences and feelings into a novel helps to make the settings, characters and events seem more authentic. But you don’t have to put anything of yourself into it. Moreover, if your fiction calls for details you’re not sure about, the sensible thing is to do some research and then use your imagination. There’s no reason to avoid writing about something you want to, just because you haven’t experienced it.
Myth #2: “Know what genre you’re writing in.” I know that the concept of genre is useful for many reasons but I feel that genres can be too strict. If a book doesn’t tick all the boxes of a particular genre, publishers and booksellers may see it as too risky. Writers may feel obliged to conform for a better chance of success, thereby stifling their creativity. Most books I read would probably be classified as ‘general fiction’ or maybe ‘literary’, ‘book club’ or ‘women’s fiction’… which doesn’t mean a lot. I would say just write what you want to and don’t worry about what genre it is.
Myth #3: “Never use adverbs.” These are words such as ‘suddenly’, ‘loudly’, ‘very’. I think the idea is that an effective writer shouldn’t need to use adverbs, finding other ways to describe the manner in which things happen. However, I find them in every book I read. Adverbs are difficult to avoid… like sugar. You can’t do without them completely.
Myth #4: “Write every day.” Sometimes writing really feels like wrenching the words out, and then staring at the page thinking the words are wrong and that the whole story is stupid and that no one will want to read it anyway. So I can understand why some people find it useful to write every day, even if they’re not in the mood. Equally, though, will you really do your best work if you’re having to force it out like toothpaste from the end of a tube and then feeling upset you’ve only written fifty words in your allocated hour? Would it not be more effective to wait until you have enough time and are in the right frame of mind?
Myth #5: “Show, don’t tell.” I think this is valuable advice. For example, show that a character is angry, rather than just saying they’re angry. However, there are times when telling will be appropriate; it will depend on the narrative style of your novel. And like with the adverbs, you can’t get away with all showing and no telling. If you’re writing and are concerned there may be too much telling, don’t worry about it until you’re at the editing stage. The most important thing is to get the story written.