Thursday, March 11, 2010

Write What You Love

by Joyce

Everyone's heard the old piece of writing advice, only write what you know.

Hogwash. Or if you prefer something stronger, bullshit.

If I sat down to write a book, or short story, or even an article, and only wrote what I know, it would be terribly boring. I'd have to write about a middle-aged woman living in the suburbs with a husband and two grown sons, whose days consist of checking email, reading blogs, writing, cleaning, cooking, and on occasion, cleaning up cat puke. Not exactly a compelling story.

A better piece of advice is to write what you love.

What are your passions? Let's say you love boats and water. Your nearest body of water is a tiny creek a mile away, and owning any kind of boat, let alone a large one would require hitting the Powerball jackpot. But in your daydreams you can feel the warm ocean breeze on your face as you glide over the sparkling turquoise water. You look stunning in your white capris and striped navy and white tank. Or if you're a man, you look just like Tom Selleck in his Magnum days. Personally, I'd look stunning in the capris and Tom would be standing beside me. Or better yet, behind me. His hands touch my shoulders. He turns me around to face him... Oops. Sorry. Got carried away there.

Ahem. Back to my point.

In your real life, the above would never happen. You don't know a thing about boats or boating. If you stick to the only write what you know theory, you shouldn't write it. But if you really think about it, how many successful writers follow that principle? I counted zero. Zero. Most writers incorporate what they know with what they love, or at the very least, things that interest them. After all, anything can be researched.

Do you think Nancy Martin is a bad girl with mobsters for relatives? Wrong. Nancy's a nice, happily married woman, and as far as I know, there are no mobsters in her family. Nancy is a Pittsburgher, so she's combined that real-life setting with her penchant for creating interesting characters and situations.

Do you think Jennie Bentley remodels houses with a hunky guy named Derek? Not that I know of. Unless that's her husband's name. I'm pretty sure she's never found bones buried in her basement, or been locked in a tunnel room with a corpse. Jennie has a background in real estate and combines her knowledge of houses with her vivid imagination.

And what about Wilfred Bereswill? His protagonist is a female. Even though Will looks fabulous in a dress (yes, I had to bring that up again!), he's not a woman. I'm sure his wife will verify this. Will uses his environmental engineering background to come up with fascinating terrorists and worst-case scenarios.

I could go on and on.

Think about your favorite authors. How do they write what they love? How do they combine that with what they know?

How do you do that in your own writing?

Be sure to come back tomorrow when we're joined by guest blogger Kate Douglas, who will be giving us all advice on never giving up. Kate is the author of the paranormal romance, DemonFire, the first in a new series.


Jemi Fraser said...

I love this post! And I completely agree. I would not love to live in Steampunk England, but I'm glad my characters are there :)

Laurie said...

Great post! If you take away the husband and two grown sons and throw in a grown daughter instead, that's my life, too! Right down to the cat's digestive problems. I agree, if I only write about my present life, b-o-r-i-n-g. I can't imagine any readers being interested, and I would be bored to tears, writing it.

Jennie Bentley said...

Excellent post, Joyce. I'll tweet it just as soon as I'm finished responding.

My husband's name is Mike. Although he does look a little like Derek. However, I've never even been to Maine, let alone lived there, and we've never found anything more frightening than a dead rat in any of our houses.

Love the Tom Selleck detour. And I agree, Will and the dress bears repeating. At regular intervals, lest anyone forget.

Gina said...

I doubt my favorite authors write what they know. I mean, has J.K. Rowling really ever been a student at Hogwarts? In my own writing, I try to use what I know about human emotional response to add authenticity to what I don't know -like how it feels to commit murder.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Okay, I DID look fabulous in that dress. I mean, I did win the contest. But no, I don't rummage through my wife's closet in search of setting new fashion trends. And no, I'm not a female, althoug I do have three daughters.

Good post, Joyce. That was EXACTLY the first writing advice I received from my uncle and ultimately it lead to my first book. BUT, I took my love for Palientology and China culture and my morbid curiousity of viruses and coupled them with a couple of thousand hours of research.

After my uncle gave me that advice, I thought, I'm an Environmental Engineer. What the hell do I know that's interesting? My knowledge and experiences, however, gave me the idea for my book and it went from there.

Joyce said...

Gina, Rowling was one of the authors I thought of. I figured you'd chime in with her name!

Dana King said...

This ties in with Annette's post yesterday, never stop learning. If you love something, you'll want to learn more about it. Do that, and your passion for the subject will be reinforced with the knowledge to write about it authoritatively.

Blacksheep Bliss said...

So true! If I wrote only what I knew it would be a sad sad story and I wouldn't want to read it myself.

I like to incorporate things I like or would like to be or see. If I didn't write I would need hundreds of lives just to be everything.

Joyce said...

Blacksheep (love the name!), I know what you mean. I think one of the reasons I became a writer was because I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to do everything. As a writer I can do that. I live vicariously through my characters!

Lilly Rose Chen said...

diddo on the post! love it! the best advice I've ever came across on writing is Stephen King's book On Writing. I listen to the audio version (read by King himself) 4-5 times a year...."read a lot and write a lot." Oh, a local author Patti Callahan Henry told me to treat my writing like a job, 10-15 pages everyday.

ramona said...

"local author Patti Callahan Henry told me to treat my writing like a job, 10-15 pages everyday."

I like how this person thinks.

I find my characters do questionable things that I, of course, would never do IRL It's not writing what I love, it's more writing like I'm not such a big chickensh!t.

Joyce said...

Me too, Ramona!

Patg said...

I so agree. I think you just have to have a liking or love of the subject to do it justice. Daydreaming is a story starter, and we should make the most of it.
The advice that your writing should be treated as a job and not a hobby is about the best I ever heard.

Annette said...

Sorry I'm so late checking in. If I'd known there was a Magnum fantasy, I'd definitely have been here sooner.

I like the line "Don't write what you know. Write what you WANT to know." And then research!

MaryQ said...

Joyce - add in cleaning up dog puke & you've got my life, too. Not exactly the next big thriller. As long as you can add some of your own passion into the story, it gets across to the reader.
I like Annette's comment, too. Write what you want to know & then research.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

And only include about 5% of that research in the story.