Writing what you WANT to know … sort of.

I was very young when I was born. 

So, I didn’t know very much and understood less. My observations were neither precise nor witty and I didn’t know what a metaphor is … for. 

For quite a few years a lot of life was a bit of a blur.

And the way I lived it, life was not that interesting. A lot of the people were frankly narrow-minded and dull, and those who weren’t probably escaped my attention because maybe I was a little dull myself.

Perhaps that’s why my experience then cannot inform whatever I might like to write about now

Some people say, “Write what you know.” Many people do.

Fair enough. I get it. Experience informs creativity.

But it seems to me that most of us who try to write fiction live in our heads. We don’t necessarily know things, but we WANT to know. And because we want to know we create. Without direct experience, we try to create a way of knowing by discovering or imagining things that we are curious about or people we can empathize with. And then we either have to do as much research as we can stand or just invent everything.

Having been creative does not mean that someone else has not already said what you said and said it better. It’s terrifying, and it’s really a good idea to research what you want to know starting with its treatment in fiction. To see if it has been done to death already.

Now, I’m not taking a big risk here with my little blog that no one will read, but by conducting the briefest of checks, I see that Dan Brown has said exactly what I have, but without my self-deprecating charm. 

What he said was, “You should write something that you need to go and learn about. Make the writing process a learning process for you.” *

That’s probably the whole point. You have to spend a lot of time living in your head, so you have to spend it with something you’re interested in discovering, not something you already know intimately. We all love our spouses, or at least a lot of us do, but we wouldn’t want to spend every minute of the day with them. And then write about it.

A great deal of my fiction writing is not something I have experienced. 

I would not want to have a lot of the experiences I have written about. I have never had to run for my life from a malevolent antagonist. I have never found the body of a murder victim. I have never used a shotgun, never crossed the English Channel in a 20-foot boat, never watched the receding face of someone I’ve pitched off a precipice, never chased a piece of paper in the wind while dodging steel-toothed excavator buckets swinging over my head. But my characters do all of these things.

I have been forced to research without actually being murdered or dismembered or drowned. All of those experiences can wait … at least until after the weekend.

So for all the successful authors who are pressured to keep churning out sequel after sequel, writing what they know over and over and over, well … poor you. And for all the independent authors who keep writing about things they WANT to know, well, good for us. 

We write for ourselves. 

Unless someone pays us to do otherwise.

And you can always make me an offer.

* Temple, E. (2019, April 5). Should You Write What You Know? 31 Authors Weigh In. Literary Hub. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://lithub.com/should-you-write-what-you-know-31-authors-weigh-in/

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