How many times have you heard this? Some well-meaning person tries to give you writing advice that seems to be sage wisdom handed down from the gods at some point in history—advice that on the surface appears to make sense and be helpful. Things like: write what you know, or if you’re not a reader you can’t be a writer, often come to us in the writing community with the best of intentions, but these noble gestures of encouragement can sometimes be more destructive of an author’s creative spirit than inspiring.
It is never wise to shun the advice of those who have gone before us in anything, least of all writing. If we do not know history, we are doomed to repeat it, and if we do not learn from other’s mistakes, we are doomed to fail the same way they do/did. So take this advice with a grain of salt, but throw that proverbial baby out with the bath water!
Yes, you read me right.
Read or not to Read?
When someone tells you it is impossible to write a good book if you are not an avid reader, thank them politely for their advice and smile and nod. You do not have to be a reader to be an excellent storyteller or writer. In fact, one of my very favorite authors is dyslexic and has read fewer than 10 books his entire life, yet he weaves some of the most masterfully created tales full of energy and imagination you would ever read!
Certainly reading a multitude of different styles/genres can help you grow your ability to write, but the author (not the person who slaps words on a page) but the true storytelling, tale spinning, creative artist called the author does not need to read a single word in order to write a fantastic novel or tell an amazing story. My father dropped out of school while he was still in middle school because his father passed away and he needed to work in order to support his mother and brothers and he is one of the most incredible storytellers I know. Yes he may not be able to write the words on the page as eloquently as Dickenson or Poe, but a good editor can fix that!
And writing only what you know or have experienced is another HUGE limitation. Though, I wouldn’t recommend writing a non-fiction piece about how to do something if you are not educated on that topic (That could get messy!). Much like the mother I know who wrote a non-fiction book on parenting when her child was only a few months old and expected seasoned veterans like myself (4 adult children over here) to listen to any advice she had!
Limitations (Or what you can do about them)
Do you think every single science-fiction author has first-hand experience with the science they write about? I don’t think so. I think they are good learners, and they know how to research. Writing about things you don’t know about is a great way to learn new things. It forces you to do your research and really dig deep into new topics so you get the facts and can really sell your story. I remember when I was writing about a murder scene involving a gun and I had to ask a police officer I was acquainted with for his help. I learned so much, and I made a new friend!
I also don’t think for a second that being an author of one gender limits you to write main characters of only that same gender. You may need to lean heavily on your beta readers for fine tuning of characters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write an opposite sex MC. Gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion should never be limited to only those who belong in those categories. Why? Because it is alienating to everyone. Writing about people who are different from you forces you to interact with people who are different from you so that you can accurately portray those characters in your books. It garners open relationships and respect between communities, and encourages understanding, compassion, and even community.
As an author you have so many obstacles to overcome when it comes to actually putting words on a page: distractions, life stressors, time constraints, responsibilities. The last thing you need is to be told “You can’t write that because you don’t know about that topic, and you’re not a reader so you won’t be any good anyway.”
Stop listening to the critics and naysayers. If your dream is to write, then go for it. Ignore the people who try to put stumbling blocks in front of you and get your ideas on a page. Find a good editor who can help you grow as an author and tell the world your story.