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!