Monday, August 21, 2006

Writer Tip #16 -- Write What You Know

This is probably the most common writing tip ever dispensed by any English teacher, college professor, publisher, editor, author – you name ‘em, they’ve said it. “Write what you know!” they say, pounding the table or podium or tree or whatever hard surface they happen to be standing by.

Well, when I was a Japanese man . . .

What do I know about being a Japanese man? Absolutely nothing! Not one blessed thing! And yet the book I wrote about a Japanese man won me rave reviews from readers and critics alike.

I’d like to offer my own slant on “write what you know,” and that’s to write what you feel passionate about. That passion will give you the drive to learn what you need to know.

Research can be grueling. It takes hours upon hours of reading and surfing the net and talking to people who have the knowledge you need. Without sufficient passion for your topic, it would be easy to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Forget it! Who needs this?” But when you’re passionate about your project, you will find the strength to read one more book, one more article, make one more phone call, and then another, until you have what you need. And that is how I wrote about a Japanese man – careful research.

But on another tack, there are emotions in my novel that are very real to me. I’ve felt anger, I’ve felt resentment, I’ve felt sorrow for sin, and so I could then use those emotions to describe how my character felt. In that sense, I did write what I knew.

In summary, don’t throw your story out the window just because it has elements in it you’ve never experienced. As you research and learn what you need to know to write those scenes, you can experience those events vicariously. But bring a piece of yourself into it with you.

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