After 17 months of making videos and appearning on Zoom calls and podcasts, I did my first In-Person event at our local library! I was so excited to stand in front of a group of people again and talk about Writing What You Know and my two new books, All That Shines and Dead Without Remorse. It was so inspiring for me to chat with novice writers after the session who loved the advice I gave and came away feeling totally motivated to write their first book. In return, I came home excited to continue to write and work with other writers to make their dream a reality.
So what do I mean by "write what you know"?
Novice writers have been given that advice for many years and, a lot of the time, they have no idea what it really means. They get stuck in a box of thinking you can only write your life - which most of us feel is a pretty dull subject! Whether it be about your current job, your lifestyle, or your own life experiences.
That's only partially correct.
I was stuck in that same rut until I read one simple paragraph written by Natalie Goldberg on page 48 of Writing Down the Bones:
"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, and are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there's another part of them they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details."
I belive it is in those textures and details that we truly write what we know.
No matter what genre you write, there are always sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds that we as writers can add to build the setting and tension and to create a realistic backdrop for our books.
If your book takes place on a spaceship deep among the stars, you already know what the darkness looks like. You can describe what metals feel like, look like, and even sound like when you knock on them or grind them together. Is it shiny and sterile? Is it an old ship with panels falling off to reveal internal circuitry?
When writing a fantasy novel, you have likely walked through forests and are familiar with the sights and sounds of birds, trees, and babbling brooks. While you might not have seen a dragon before, you can compare one to a lizard, just on a grander scale and with wings that could cause serious damage to a cottage.
For mystery and even paranormal writers, we've all been alone inside a building before. Bring in that sense of dread and suspense where you have no idea what's around the next corner. Have your character hear a sound that they can't identify. Their heartrate would speed up and their hands grow clammy because they have no idea who - or what - is in the building with them.
Bring in the simple things: The smells in the air before or after a rainfall. The taste of coffee, or what passes for coffee or strange herbal teas in their worlds. The rustle of leaves as the wind blows. The texture of shiny or matte metals. The creaking of wood on a pirate ship. Snow falling on your face.
Can you write about your job? Why not? As long as you're not giving out top secret information, you can fictionalize places, people, and events. Writing the bitter truth about easily idenifyable people will put you in the realm of non-fiction. It can also open you up to a lawsuit! Think before you publish.
I believe very strongly in writing what you know when it comes to creating stronger fiction. I even have a simple formula for it.
Take one part imagination
Add one part reality
Blend in a flowing, believable way
That engages your readers
Repeat in the next story or novel.
Thank you for joining me today!