Wednesday, 4 January 2017

IWSG - January 2017

Well, 2016 is done and dusted and it was certainly a tumultuous one - hopefully there's a bit more plain sailing ahead. As it's the first Wednesday of the year it's time for us all to reconvene and see where we are in our writing and associated insecurities, all thanks to the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Hosted as ever by Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, our co-hosts for January are Eva @ LillicasplaceCrystal CollierSheena-kay GrahamChemist KenLG Keltner and Heather Gardner.


Insecurities - yep, they're still hanging around, but as it's a New Year I am going to do my best to place them to one side and put my best foot forward in terms of writing, editing and marketing. In broad terms, my goals for the year are to finish the first draft of the final book in my trilogy by the end of February, and to start gearing up for the release of Book 1 in summer or early autumn. I also want to come up with some creative ideas for marketing but before that release, I'd like to try some more things with my short story collection that is already out there. Hopefully, I will also have time to write and submit one short story per month.

Now, let's turn to the IWSG's question prompt for January - one that plays well into insecurity, I think! The question is: "What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?"

This is an interesting one as it got me thinking about rules in general - and personally I believe that there are no rules for writers, merely guidelines or suggestions. Even the biggest selling books probably break one or more rules that are in circulation at some point. My approach is to treat each story on its own merits and use what works. Of course, there are things I try to avoid - like many people, I don't like adverbs, particularly when used to describe how a character says something, as I believe they are a way of "telling" what the character is feeling that could instead be inferred by their words and body language. But again, it's advice rather than rules. An occasional, judiciously placed adverb might be okay. That said, to answer the question, the "rule" I probably wish I'd never heard is "Write what you know".

I don't particularly like this little phrase because I believe it's easily misinterpreted by starting writers who think it restricts them to writing about what is in their everyday lives. After all, I don't think Tolkien ever came face-to-face with a hobbit or that H.G. Wells travelled in a time machine. As writers, imagination is key and we are free to come up with the most outlandish worlds and scenarios possible. However, balanced against that, what I think drives any good story is characters that we can recognise and relate to. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Even if they don't react to their circumstances in the way the reader might, the reader should feel able to place themselves in a character's shoes and imagine what they might do. And it all stems from the writer's observations of human foibles and their skill as an interpreter of behaviour - which is likely to come at least partly from the people they interact with in their daily lives, even if indirectly.

So, for me, this is what the phrase "write what you know" means. I just think it's too easily misleading, and something like "write what you know about how ordinary people would react to extreme circumstances" might be better - although granted, it's not quite as catchy.

How about you? What writing rules get your goat? Find out what other IWSG authors have to say here.

PS: I'm off to New York in a couple of days, accompanying my wife on a week-long work trip. There'll be time for sightseeing too and I'm stoked about visiting the Big Apple for the first time. Based on that, I probably won't be able to return all comments right away but I'll be sure to get back to everyone on my return. Happy New Year!

42 comments:

Suzanne Furness said...

Good luck with all your writing goals for the year, Nick. I think it is important to try and start the year feeling positive and looking forward. I'm a bit like you with writing rules!
Have a fabulous trip to New York.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick - oh yes .. the Big Apple - that sounds like lots of fun - so pleased for you both - enjoy. Yes - the Write What You Know isn't terribly helpful in a general sense is it ... but we can always work our way round things ... and you certainly have had some wonderful stories, and we learn from each other. Jemima Pett has just brought up the spacing element - that we'll need to adhere to - American v British - that will take some mental adjustment ... enjoy yourselves - great start to 2017 - cheers Hilary

The Cynical Sailor said...

"Write what you know" is a great pick for this month's question. I almost wrote about that one as well. The things my imagination comes up with are not always things that one finds out there in the real world or that I've experienced or know :-) Cheers - Ellen

Laura Clipson said...

Have fun in New York! I'm jealous, I'd love to go there!
I agree with you on the "write what you know" thing; writing is all about being creative and exploring new places.

Heather R. Holden said...

Best of luck with all your goals for the year! Looking forward to seeing you launch your new series. Will also be interesting to see what kind of ideas you come up with for marketing. Trying to promote my own projects in fun, unique ways never fails to trip me up, LOL. And how exciting about your NY trip. Hope you have fun!

JeffO said...

Happy New Year, Nick, and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2017 for you and your family!

"Write what you know" is definintely high on my list of annoying rules; you summed up the reasons quite well. But I also have a problem with "show don't tell" mainly as newer writers often apply it. Sometimes, it's fine to just say someone was angry, or upset, or uncomfortable. Sometimes, showing it just bogs down the passage with excessive gestures, tics, and throat clearing. I think one of the most important things about writing is knowing the rules so that you know when to break them.

Enjoy your trip!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Happy New Year, Nick! Enjoy your trip to New York. I've never been there.

Sounds like you have some great goals and glad to hear you're starting the year positive. I do think the rules are guidelines, at least once we get published. For newer writers, many of them may seem like rules that can't be broken. And I do think authors who are established can treat the writing rules more like guidelines and break them--sometimes too much.

Jennifer Hawes said...

How exciting! I hope your trip is wonderful, safe, and memorable. I enjoy writing what I know, but I don't limit myself. There's so much out there that we can tap in as writers/researchers. Have a great trip!

Deniz Bevan said...

Too funny, Nick -- we talked about the same rule!
Happy new year! Hope you have a great time in New York.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm with you on pushing aside those insecurities. We just need to keep working, keep going, despite them. :)

Have a wonderful trip!

betty said...

How fun with your trip! Enjoy! Since I'm not a writer, I wouldn't even know what the writing rules were :)

Happy New Year!

betty

Karen Walker said...

You're going to my hometown.. It's a great city - so much to see. Enjoy your time there, Nick. And I'm all for breaking the rules.

Tamara Narayan said...

Enjoy the trip! I think you've made a good point here. Writing only what you know could be boring.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Safe travels!
Those of us who write speculative fiction can never write what we know. I don't really want to go into space anyway.

J Q Rose said...

I think I'm guilty of writing what I know. My mysteries take place in a small town in Michigan because I've only lived in small towns and the characters come right from my memories of people I've known. Another story I'm re issuing this winter takes place in a FL retirement community very very similar to where we spend the winters. I love spinning my life into the stories and imagining "what if." I do get a kick out of writing sci fi too though and that is definitely not in my life! Bundle up to visit New York! Enjoy.
JQ Rose

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Happy New Year, Nick. Good post. I agree. We need to trust our instincts. Hope 2017 makes your dream come true.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

At the heart of every story is people, so focusing on human behavior gives su plenty of room to write what we know or have observed.

Crystal Collier said...

Yeah, the whole "Write what you know" is a misnomer. It's supposed to be "Write what you're willing to know." That means if you're willing to research it, figure it out, study it, etc, then you KNOW it. Or at least, that's the Crystal take on the rule. Isn't it great to be a writer and rewrite the rules as you go? ;)

Anne Doucette said...

Happy New Year and Happy IWSG Day, Nick! I agree about "rules" and also about only "writing what you know." Then again, maybe H.G. Wells really did investigate time machines and the future firsthand. ;-)

Anne from annehiga.com

Mark Noce said...

I couldn't agree more! Tolkien certainly didn't meet any hobbits outside of his own imagination:)

diedre Knight said...

You've some great plans for the year! Best wishes on all. I bet whoever said (fiction) writer's write what they know were speaking in terms of creativity, which leaves the road wide open. Wouldn't you say?
Enjoy your fist visit to New York!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Happy New Year Nick! Rules can work out once we know they are not always absolute.

QueendSheena
2017 IWSG January Co-Host

H.R. Sinclair, Southpaw said...

Have fun in NY! Best of luck meeting your goals this year. I hope 2017 is a brighter year for everyone.

Liza said...

I like your point about writing what you know...or not. I think we can write what we don't know, as long as we use things we do know in our writing to make the story feel real. Have a wonderful trip in NY. So much to do and see I'm excited for you!

Patricia Lynne said...

Good luck with your writing plans for the year. Hit me up if you need a blog to steal for promoting.

Have fun in the big apple.

Liz A. said...

Someone else took exception to "write what you know" today. She said instead to "follow your heart", which I think is great advice.

Have fun in New York.

Cynthia said...

Happy New Year, Nick.

I like the idea of writing about what interests us. And if what interests us is a subject that we're not that familiar with, we can explore and research it so that what we don't know becomes what we do know.

Sandra Hoover said...

Good insight into "write what you know", Nick. Thanks. Best of luck in the new year! And hope you have a blast in New York!

Julie Flanders said...

I have seen a few other people answer with this rule and I couldn't agree more. I don't even think the rule makes sense.
Good luck with your plans for 2017!!

Juneta Key said...

Keep on, keeping on is definitely the key. Hope you have a fantastic trip,
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Stephanie Faris said...

Your comment on adverbs brought up a very important point. As authors advice other writers on what they should and shouldn't do, it can be a BIG help to show the difference.

"I don't like it," he said angrily.
"i don't like it," he said, pounding his fist on the table and scowling.

That sort of thing. So many writers just throw "rules" at aspiring authors and don't show why it's a rule. Then they end up assuming they can never add have an adverb in any book they write.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Hope you enjoyed NY and it wasn't too cold. I picked the same rule as you. We all know more than we think we do.

Nicola said...

Happy New Year, Nick. Thought provoking post. I take on board useful tips that will improve my writing approach but disguard anything slightly pompous or has 'must do' attached to it. Enjoy New York. Happy writing!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm working on my insecurities too. It's a slow process.

I hate when people say you must plot. I don't write that way. Some huge authors don't either. Looking at the plot during revision--sure. But I need to find the story as I write. I think most of us are a hybrid anyway.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I hope you and yours had a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and are having a very HAPPY NEW YEAR. May we display your linked header on our new site directory, SiteHoundSniffs.com? As it is now, the site title (linked back to its home page) is listed, and we think displaying the linked header will attract more attention.

Christine Rains said...

Love your take on write what you know. I totally agree. Have fun in NYC! :)

Misha Gericke said...

I agree with you.

To me any rule that people insist on without understanding the hows and whys gets to me. Write what you know is one. Always plot is another.

Sandra Cox said...

This was a good post, Nick. I agree. Guidelines make so much more sense than rules. And I hear ya on the write what you know....that can get pretty boring:)

Sandra Cox said...

PS Hope you enjoyed New York.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent point about Tolkien!! I never liked that rule either, but I do now that you explain it.

Chrys Fey said...

I swear I commented on this on the 1st but my comment must not have gone through. I even remember a little of what I said... You're right that these "rules" are mere guidelines. They aren't set in stone. Nor should they be.

Arlee Bird said...

If we all wrote only what we know then we'd probably mostly be writing memoirs and not allowing our imaginations to expand. We know more with research, reading, and hearing what others have said about what they know. Writing only according to our own experience is limiting to the imagination which should have no limits otherwise nothing new would ever be created.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out