By the end of my book tour I will have visited Colby College and The Dalton School, where I attended college and high school, respectively. I will have spoken to students far younger than mysekf -- so young, in fact, that many weren't yet ambulatory when I left academia. And I will have shared my one piece of advice to writers:
Don't write about being a writer.
I don't mean non-fiction. What's this, after all? I mean novels or stories in which the main character is a writer. That's not my only advice. I've heard others say, and will now faithfully parrot, that one should write every day; read a lot; learn when you write and abide by that; learn what you write and abide by that; write for yourself, rather than an imagined audience; solicit criticism; find a community; find a mentor; and always show-don't-tell. But this nugget is unique to me:
Don't write about writers. It's boring.
Not to me! you may protest. I think writing is fascinating! Well, yes, so do I -- that's why the protagonists of my first six (unpublished) novels were writers. Unfortunately, even a casual reader can make a distinction that most writers refuse to entertain:
Stories are captivating. The mechanics of storytelling are not.
Writing fiction is challenging, but it lacks narrative tension. What does a writer (as a fictional character) want? To express her inner-most self? Well, what prevents her from doing so? Words? Time? Patience? The conflict is internalized and thus difficult to render on the page -- versus an adolescent boy, clutching a ticket stub in his hot, little hand, who's denied entry to an R-rated movie by a prurient usher. Here the conflict is externalized, and therein lies the difference between an interesting story and a boring story.
If you can't conceive of a character who isn't a writer -- who's an accountant, or a cab driver, or a mongoose -- then your professional experience may be lacking; however, I find this hard to believe. Weren't you, at one time or another, a camp counselor? Or a waitress? Or a scallop-shucker? What's so wrong about telling that story? And if you're too young to have held many jobs, weren't you recently a camper? Or a diner? Or a boy clutching a ticket stub?
The great thing about free advice is you can ignore it. I would applaud these Colby/Dalton students for thinking, Who the hell are you, Mr. Fancypants? With your v-neck shirt and your New Balance shoes? I'd love that. I hope they stomp home and ignore everything they've heard me say. Only, please (PLEASE! as one who has written self-referential drivel and taxed the patience of others!), put your words in the mouth of a labradoodle and not another writer.