Advice to Writers – Do More Than Write… Live

I follow quite a few authors on Twitter, and I read quite a few blogs on writing advice. The one thing it boils down to, what is repeated over and over, is that writers write. Write, the tweets say. Write! the blogs say. Write write write. Just write.

And I thought about this advice, and while I’m not going to say it’s wrong, I think the advice is making an assumption. That assumption is that you have something to write about. And finding that requires more than just sitting down at the writing device of your choice and just writing. 

Writing requires living first. And then writing about it.

The old adage, of course, is to write what you know. That’s why so many writers are more experienced; they know more. Or at least the assumption is that they do. I resemble this remark. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started, some thirty years ago. When I started, I sat down and I wrote. I just wrote and wrote and wrote. 

But I hadn’t really lived yet. Hell, I hadn’t even done much reading, so I was just putting words to page.

So – things to do if you plan to write. Let’s make a list:

  1. Read. Read as much as you can. Read in the genre you want to write in, read in the genres you don’t want to write in, read novels, short stories, blogs, news articles, screenplays, poetry, etc. Why? Because it helps you construct. Reading what others write can inspire you and will most certainly influence you. So read.
  2. Interact. Get out and talk with people. People older than you, people younger than you. Talk with a child. Talk with a grandparent. Dialog can be one of the most difficult things to get right when you’re writing. The best way to make it work? Talk to people. And not on Twitter. The other great thing about dialog is what people are saying with their eyes, with the slope of their shoulders, with their hands. Does the smile reach their eyes? Do they look tired, worn? Does that come through in what they’re saying to you? This is all critically important as you sit down to write, because it gives your characters depth.

  3. Act it out. Does your character like to cook? Try your hand at cooking. Does he swing a sword? Find one or something of similar weight and swing it around for a while. I have a sword. It’s heavy. It gives me a better appreciation for my characters who lug it around sheathed on their backs or drag it from a scabbard and start fighting with it. Have you ever been in a fight? I’m not suggesting you get into a fracas for the sake of your art, but if you’re like almost anyone else these days, you’ve either been in a scrap at some point in your life or played a contact sport where it feels like you have. Get to the gym and lift some weights, do some cardio… and remember how sore you are, because if your characters are active or need to push their limits, they might also be sore. In short, if your characters is doing it, try it out for yourself (without doing anything illegal, obviously).

Writing is more about just writing. It’s about the characters who are going to experience a conflict, which is the basis for a story. Those characters need to be recognizable to the reader. A writer who just writes is possibly not as skilled at making that character recognizable. 

So my advice to writers? Read, talk, laugh, drink, argue, smile, jump, run, cook, love, hate, play, eat, shop, frown, care for a pet.

In short: live.

And then write about it.