Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Write What You 'Know'

Beginning writers hear this all the time. It's possibly the worst piece of advice out there - but with one little word change, it could become the best advice.

Write what you love.

If you're a writer, chances are you're a reader. And if you're a reader, chances are there are certain themes you'll find recurring again and again in those novels you've read until the spines are cracked and the pages are dog-eared and there are unidentifiable stains on the covers and the edges from carting them everywhere while you're reading them for the forty-second time.

I'll go further, and say there's a good chance these certain themes you love are also present in your favorite movies or television shows. Themes that move you, fascinate you, make you laugh hysterically or weep uncontrollably when they're executed well.

Now, many writers discover a problem when they contemplate these themes they love: they've been done before. Obviously, since you've ran across them in so many stories. You conclude that they must have been done to death, and nothing you write on these themes can have any possible chance of success.

This is unequivocably not true.

You are the only one capable of writing the themes you love with your own unique voice, and your own opinions and life experiences coloring the story. Only your characters can handle these themes in the special way you see them and relate to them. Everything has been done -- but you have not done everything.

People fascinate me. This may seem like a very broad theme, but I've recently connected a few dots and realized there is a specific idea that's "been done" that I absolutely love: non-human entities that have suddenly become human, and get to experience all the pain and joy that comes with humanity for the first time, with a clean slate.

I can't seem to recall any books that use this theme (though I'm sure I've read several) - but I know stories. Joe Black. Short Circuit. At least two episodes of Star Trek. The idea of 'becoming' human excites and energizes the writer in me.

So I'm giving this theme some wings (HA - if only you knew!) and letting it fly. And for the first time in far too long, I'm excited about my work. Despite knowing this particular idea has been done, and these certain non-human entities have been used again and again, I'm writing yet another story. And I love it.

I'm writing what I love. Are you?


Marta Stephens said...

"And for the first time in far too long, I'm excited about my work... I'm writing yet another story. And I love it."

Toss the confetti, toot that horn, and dance the jig. Look out world, S. W. is back and you're in for a treat!!

PS, Great post by the way. If I wrote what I knew, readers wouldn't get past the first paragraph so I turned to crime instead. ;)

Kathryn Magendie said...

I just blogged about this subject yesterday -- or the essence of it...
I always say that "write what you know" is more than apparent --to not think of it in the concrete, necessarily, but also in the abstract....but, I love "write what you love..." what you like to read; it'll just feel right.

s.w. vaughn said...

*sniff* Thanks, Marta! I'm hardly daring to believe I actually have a story idea I like. It's been SO long, and I've been so frustrated. Ack!

Kathyrn, that's a great point! If you think of write what you know in abstract terms, you'll get so much further. My God, if I wrote about working at McDonalds - what a snooze-fest that would be. LOL

~Sia McKye~ said...

I think by saying write what you love, you allow yourself to dream and fantasize. It's the fusion of those two elements, combined with "now what if I..." or "What would happen if...?" that leads to some great stories. It sets you on the road of the adventure first. YOU are excited and if you're skilled in your craft, you will excite your reader. If you love what you're writing, it comes across in your story.

Of course, write what you know has validity. If you don't KNOW the hows and the whys of the theme, how can you write it? But I prefer writing from the heart.

Yay, on having a story that is exciting you. Bet it will be a good one. :-)

Thanks for the thought provoking article.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Good post, SW! I'm doing a reading tonight & I'm jotting down your quote. It is so important for first time writers to remember this: Write what you love. Thanks for reminding me. there is just so much info out there that it's hard to decide what to tell them.

The other thing that comes to mind is Don't Show Anyone Your First Draft.

Kim Smith said...

I truly do believe in this. My problem is, I love EVERYTHING!

Unknown said...

I have started a business for writing promo material for entertainers. I love the world of those who sing, act, dance etc and this is my way of being a part of it, making money and not having to get onstage!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

SW, although I'm late to comment, I read this yesterday and just devoured it. Yes, yes, yes! Write what you love! That's all there is to it. I've read mysteries my entire life, am fascinated by unsolved puzzles of all kinds, and love life in the country. So LeGarde Mysteries just came about as naturally as if I were... following my passions. Great post!!! Thank you!