Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's Not What You Know...

First off, head over to Steph's and check out her giveaway for an ARC of Anna and the French Kiss!


Write what you know.

That's the first piece of writer advice I ever heard. I might have been 8 or 9 at the time, so it always sticks with me as the epitome of writing advice.

The validity of this maxim shines on its own. If you know what you're talking about it shows. And you don't have to add content issues to all the other issues you might face (like grammar and plot).

I started thinking about this at Summer Sonic two weekends ago. (Yeah, I know. Who has time to get all philosophical at a music festival? Apparently me.) So, Taylor Swift introduced almost every one of her songs with how she feeling at the time she wrote it. And it occurred to me that's one of the reasons I felt so connected to her music. It wasn't something a random songwriter developed according to a trend or something. It was a girl, crying, rejoicing, getting revenge, etc.

Then when I got back to the hostel, youtube informed me of Eminem's new song featuring Rihanna. As a Bajan (Barbadian) I make a point of listening to every single song I encounter by Rihanna (or Shontelle or Livvi Franc or Jaicko...). The song, Love the Way You Lie is about domestic abuse. Anybody can sing about abuse, but this song has so much more credibility because it was Eminem and Rihanna.

There are definitely perks when you write what you know.

But you can't always write what you know can you? You only get one body. Maybe you'll change careers 3 or 4 times. You probably will only go to one college. You'll probably only live in one country, or even two. When you think about these things, you realise if you only write what you know, then there are only a finite number of stories you can tell. In addition certain genres- sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy- just wouldn't exist.

It's okay to write things you don't know too. It will take more research on your part and more work. But you can still weave a wonderful tale without having lived it. That's why it's called fiction and not autobiography.

What you really need more than knowledge is passion. Taylor Swift and Eminem both make their money singing their lives. But they're not just singing what they know, they're singing who they are. Things that are important to them. Things that define who they are.

When you don't know it shows. But, in this internet age, it's not too hard to acquire knowledge. When you don't care... Well, there's no easy fix for that.

You'll be just fine writing what you now. But even if you want to step outside that framework and write a character who lives in another country or does a different job or has different opinions, that's fine. As long as the story is about something important to you.

In short, you don't need to write what you know, but you should always write who you are.


Emilia Plater said...

Yes! This is all so true - it's always good to write what you know, and it often has great results, but what it really comes down to is who you are. And who you are has no boundaries! Great post :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Well, I've never ventured into space before, but I do know a lot about fighter jets, read a lot of science fiction books, and watch sci-fi movies and TV shows all the time. So hopefully I knew enough!

Claire Dawn said...

Thanks Emilia!

Alex, as long as it's what interests you, you'll write in a way interesting to others like you :)