Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Writing What You Know

Cross-posted from my blog over at Red Room

For years, the biggest obstacle I faced in writing was the old saw: "write what you know."

I interpreted that to mean that I should only write what I had actually experienced. My aversion to risk and general introversion are such that I felt I did not have the breadth of experience to be a writer. Somewhere along the line I read an article that allowed "what you know" to include "what you can imagine that rings totally true based on what you know."

Under my former illusion, I could never have written about camping in the Everglades in cocoon-like "tents" that hang from trees, because I have never done that. Under my new way of thinking, I can write about it because I saw a TV show about it once and I immediately understood how much I would totally hate it, based on how much I hate regular old tent-camping, which I have done many times. I discovered that "what I know" can be interpreted as "what I can extrapolate from what I've experienced when applied to the situation I want to write about." That was a liberating experience, let me tell you!

The other thing that helped free my imagination was having the experience of talking with people who have personally experienced things I wrote about and who have affirmed my observations.

What I "know" to be true is much broader than what I have experienced personally. It includes what is true for me, based on my experience -- extrapolated and applied to imaginary situations. That's what a fiction writer does.

It took me decades to figure that out, and when the revelation came, all I could think was, "Well, duh....."

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