I’m now in my tenth year of writing, and I was thinking back today about the advice I’ve heard given to beginner writers, and how it can be misleading. Here are three of them that I feel could do with some clarification.
‘You have to write every day’
The classic example cited here is Stephen King, as his process is widely known through On Writing. When you’re starting out, it can be helpful to write daily, but there are other schools of thought. In 2016, Amy Mason won the Dundee International Book Prize for The Other Ida, and she sees writing as seasonal, with fallow periods in the year.
‘Write what you know’
This advice is often misinterpreted to mean: ‘write what you already know’. Instead, think of it as a reminder to research anything outside of your experience. So whether you need to find out how to write a character with dementia, what happens in a restaurant kitchen, or how a train crash is investigated, it’ll have a little authenticity.
‘Kill your darlings’
William Faulkner is credited with saying, ‘In writing, you must kill all your darlings.’ A ‘darling’ in this instance is what you feel to be a particularly good phrase or sentence.
But don’t take that as a sign to strike out words you like. I’m conjecturing here, but I suspect Faulkner meant to take out any good phrase or sentence if it doesn’t fit or work in the text at hand. Remember you can always save your favourite turns of phrase for another piece.