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A Pulitzer Prize finalist says to ignore a common piece of writing advice

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Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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This question originally appeared on Quora: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer? Answer by Adam Haslett, author of Imagine Me Gone, Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Probably the most oft quoted piece of advice is “write what you know.” I’d revise that to say “write what interests you.” You don’t need to know a great deal about a subject at the outset—I wrote a novel set partly in a Federal Reserve Bank and had never set foot in one—but interest in the subject is a way of signaling to oneself that you want to learn about it, and I think the curiosity behind learning and writing are not dissimilar. Thus, as far as subject matter goes, I could refine my answer to say “write about what you want to learn about.”

As for the practice itself, writing prose takes time. Keeping a regular schedule is vital, in my experience. There is so much failure built into writing—so many drafts of things you’ll never end up using or will use only a sentence of—that you have to be willing to spend a good deal of time working even if there is no satisfying ratio between the time spent and the finished pages won. So I would be determined, I would turn off the internet, turn off your phone, and write however many hours a day you can manage. We live in a wildly distracted age. In order to hear the voices inside myself that want expression, I find I have to try to quiet or even silence the louder more common ones of everyday modern life.

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