Thursday, September 06, 2007

Write What You Know

Okay...several things come to mind when I hear this phrase. It's a saying I've heard repeatedly within the publishing industry. I read a blog recently that really struck home in relation to what I think about when I hear it. I live in a small, rural community and I have young children...I also have a husband working in a war zone so our family can have a better future. My hero. Does that mean I should write a story about our life and top it off with a happily-ever-after. I could. Very easily. But we all know...excuse me...shit happens.

Six years ago...two months before I married a man I absolutely adored and wanted to spend the rest of my life with...he was told he had cancer. The DR. said that because his "belly" was tender that it had probably spread throughout his body. We were frantic. He had just switched jobs and didn't have insurance...he was a big, strapping country-fed cowboy ~ what did he need insurance for? I'm sure I could weave several stories out of what happened next. Short wasn't cancer and we had quite a few outrageous medical bills, all because the DR. was retiring and needed a nice little nest egg.

But would it sell? It happens to a lot of people. Life tends to do that. What about if I wanted to write about a bull-rider? I could. I can write about anything I want to. Nana nana boo-boo. Whatever.

It's called research. So why should I write what I know...maybe emotional aspect? How do these great authors write about subjects they've only researched and put an emotional spin into the story and still sound believable? Cause they're good. So when they say write what you know...what does it mean to you?


Jennifer Shirk said...

My mouth dropped open at that whole medical fiasco. Holy smokes, that must have been a time.

Personally, I don't like that "write what you know" advice. I like "write what you like" better. You can always do research. LOL

Although, I think Michael Connolly used to be a crime reporter and now he writes, crime/suspense novels. I think that's pretty much writing what you know. LOL

Patricia W. said...

I used to interpret it to mean "write about subjects with which I have direct or indirect knowledge". Not anymore.

Now I interpret it to mean "write about the subjects that intrigue me and for which I'm willing to do the research necessary to make my writing feel authentic". Big difference.

Chelle Sandell said...

Jennifer~yeah it was pretty scary and now what sucks is the scar tissue has built up in the same area and is giving hubby a hard time. I agree with writing what you like cause the research would be interesting at least. I've always loved mystery and drama so there's so much open to me right there with the right research.

Patricia~I could write several books about things I can relate to but then what...You can write about anything now thanks to the internet. If I wanted to have a Hero with a specialized job I can do tons of research online. Big bonus!!!

bettye griffin said...

My earlier books contained a lot of topics and professions I knew about firsthand . . . or secondhand through my work, which involved lots and lots of case histories of real people. I knew even then that my experience, although more varied than I realized, wouldn't sustain a writing career that I'm planning on stretching over many years, so I also began to stockpile information. When I see articles about anything interesting -- professions, living situations, circumstances, lives in general (via obituary columns) I print them out and stick them in a box. Whenever I have an opportunity to speak to someone about what they do, I do so. When my husband and I go away, I take notes and look at the newspapers for the area online.

I just wrote a book about a group of friends who grew up in Chicago in the Sixties and Seventies. My husband, who is from Northwest Indiana, filled me in on the Blizzard of 1967, but I knew nothing about Chicago and had only lived in the area for a few months. Then, voila! PBS ran a show about Baby Boomers' memories of growing up the city. It was a boon for me. I felt like I'd lived here all my life and could write about it. A few e-mails to the Chicago Housing Authority (my fictional creations grew up in a housing project, and I needed to use a name that hadn't been used already) and to a couple of school boards (to determine when the school year began and ended, and also the birthday cut-offs in place for enrolling a child in kindergarten in 1962). I'm convinced I wrote an authentic story. (It's called Once Upon a Project and it'll be out in the spring).

Write what you know, sure. Your experiences might be more fascinating than you think. But don't be afraid to venture outside of what you know. Just be sure to back it up by checking it out. People will usually be willing to spend a few minutes chatting with you.

Anonymous said...

The saying has always terrified me. I'm a pretty simple, small town person. I've never had amazing, interesting professions - I've not traveled much - and all I know about cops and cowboys is what I read or see on TV. It's very scary. Nothing about what I know or my life is anything that anybody would want to read about. I guess that's where the imagination and research comes in. At least I know where to go now when I want to write that cowboy story - right Chelle? LOL.

Chelle Sandell said...

Bettye ~ your ms sounds very interesting! I love seeing topics or stories about something I'm interested in and a story or idea pops in my head. Everyone teases me cause I usually have the laptop or pad of paper near at all times.

Tammy ~ LOL!! You bet! My favorite subjects! But you're right about imagination and research. A writer would be lost without both.