A Writer's Journey

April 16, 2012

Write What You Know

All beginning writers are told that piece of advice. But it’s never appropriately explained, is it?

Most writers take “write what you know” to mean “write about you.” Your town, your friends, your experiences, your job, your hobbies, etc. And that’s not entirely bad advice. Some of the best mysteries and thrillers have been written by former cops and lawyers. And some have been written by people who did little more than visit a library.

I love to catch reruns of Murder, She Wrote. And not just because Angela Lansbury is awesome (which she is). The stories are intriguing, especially how Jessica solves them. Sometimes, she notices something. Other times, she knows something. And it’s something that makes someone ask how a sweet lady like her knows such. And her answer? Research!

I’ve repeated that word ad nausem. But research is important. Because “write what you know” doesn’t mean “what you lived” or “what is personal” to you. The advice I’ve gotten from my college fiction writing professor has done more: Write what you can get away with. His example was that you don’t have to be a heart surgeon to write about one or write about heart surgery. You just have to do the research and people will believe what you write.

Now, I’ve done both. When I was in high school, we were given a theme to write about it: “Weddings.” Most went with the first instinct to write about dream weddings. I went with a different tactic. I worked as a sacristan in high school and had to set up/clean up several weddings. So I had some war stories as it were. And I used some of the worst examples, combining them into a sacristan’s nightmare. I was highly praised for it.

On the other side, I wrote a story in college set in Marblehead, MA. I only had my internet research to go by. That summer, my family went to Salem, MA. Down by the water, the park ranger pointed across the way to Marblehead. I looked over and realized I had gotten its look right.

With my current projects, I’m using both. Especially for “The Conference House.” I already volunteer as a docent at the site. So I had some knowledge of the history of the house and know the layout. I had to research the Loyalist movement on Staten Island to help understand the climate. And I think it’s progressing.

So, write what you know. Just remember that what you know isn’t finite.


1 Comment »

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    Comment by najlepszy agregator w sieci — July 15, 2013 @ 9:52 am | Reply

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