Hannah Kent is an author worth listening to. I read her novel Burial Rites in September 2013, and have been holding it precious within me ever since—plus nursing an intense desire to visit Iceland.
In 2014, Kent outlined her five pieces of writing advice:
- Cultivate empathy
- Work hard, be disciplined
- Expect it to be difficult and don’t expect to be ready
- Write from the soul.
I say yes! to all, but would extend #2: cultivate empathy. Whereas I agree that writers need to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes, in my experience I didn’t 1) cultivate empathy, then 2) write. Rather, I did it the other way around: first I wrote, then I found myself becoming more empathetic. The more I write, the more I find my character-creating skills coming into play in real life. Why did flesh-and-blood so-and-so behave in that way? I now dig in and explore the possible reasons.
Kent’s rules have also spurred me to reflect on my own writing beliefs. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Get inspired and keep learning: Read as much as you can, in as many genres as you can. Take classes to learn the skills you need or polish the skills you’ve got. But also remember to say your story in the way that moves you. If that requires breaking a “rule,” go ahead and take your chance.
- Steal your ideas, or live them: It’s not so bad to be a wallflower: you can observe things the busier folks may not. Or be the adventurer, collecting tales. Or be stuck in routine life; mundane existence is fascinating fodder too.
- Let your imagination run wild: Are you a worrier? Do you vividly imagine every horrid outcome? Hurray, go on and imagine the worst—you’ve got the makings of a great storyteller.
- Make the time but don’t bemoan if it’s not the time: Set aside regular, solid time to write—but if this isn’t the right time of your life (responsibility-wise, age-wise, inspiration-wise), don’t beat yourself up. When you’re ready, recognize it and move forward.
- Draw from your unique experiences: While they may seem everyday and dull to you, to someone else they may be captivating. Welcome people into your world.