Write what you know is perhaps the most over used and overrated piece of advice ever given to writers. I am sure Mary Shelly knew a great deal about creating a monster from body parts and electricity. She had heard various legends and histories and tales in her travels but when it came to creating what some refer to as the very first science fiction story, she didn’t know.
What then should be the advice? Write what you love. You may twist and turn it but at the base level it is what you love and if you write what you love you will finish what you love and do your best job while doing so.
Sometimes I am asked, “Is it true you should write what you know about?” I say, “No, write what you care about. If you don’t care, you’ll find out. But if you don’t care, why should anyone else?”
Considering her success I think I will take her advice and feel comfortable that I believe the same thing.
I recently interviewed John W. Howell author of My Girl. His novel includes a great deal about boats, the terminology and the actual mechanical parts of a boat. This is what John had to say when I asked what he had learned about himself during the writing of the thriller My Girl:
“The first thing I learned was I could, in fact, finish a book that was readable. Up to this point my efforts were not what I would describe as stellar. The second was I could write about a subject that I knew little about. People who don’t know me think I have been around boats. I really had to research all aspects of the book since none of the hardware and software related items were in my experience profile.”
Considering the great reviews John has received, I think he did some great research. From my own personal writing I’ve written just about every genre you can think of and for every age. It’s taken me almost 20 years to realize what it is I want to write, what I love. As soon as I did, I also found my writer’s voice.
When you find what you love, you will also find that voice. The two go hand in hand it there is something natural about it. Yes, you will need to do a lot of polishing but your flow of storytelling will come to you as if it had been there your entire life just waiting for you to ask for it. One of my new found loves is Romance. Not the normal bodice ripper type that I believe one lady author friend of mine referred to them as, but more character driven. And now I am combing a love of history with adventure and romance in a new book I am co-authoring.
Once I found that love things started happening. I’m not saying that always happens but I will tell you this, it definitely makes writing more enjoyable. And I am a lot more willing and able to revise and edit and revise and edit something I love than something I just could barely complete the first draft of to begin with.
If what you are doing is writing in a genre just because that’s what sells, well that’s up to you. I go where the enjoyment takes me. One year it might be Middle Grades stories about little girls and talking bears and the next it might be about a doctor dragging himself across North Africa. You just never know and that’s part of what makes writing such a great life to be in.
What loves do you write about? And yes, I know what you love may be what you know about.
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