Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Write What You Know.

By Jonene Ficklin

How many times have you heard that? A bazillion times? Yeah, me too.

Problem is, the things I know may not be interesting to the general population.

For instance, I know just how to get each of my kids up in the morning.

Grade-schooler: Pull out of bed by the feet, zombie-walk him to the bathroom, push inside, turn on the light and shut the door. He figures it out from there.

Junior-higher: Say his name until he answers. Make sure his eyes are open. Stay until his feet hit the floor. Make sure he doesn't trip over the book he was reading that fell on the floor. (Yes! Gotta love it!)

High-schooler: Turn light on. Pull covers off. Wait for the howl, then carefully back away.

I also know how to stay calm when one of my kids spills pop on the carpet. Again. Not saying I do, but I know how.

Anyway, you get the picture. I'm a mom. I know mom stuff. But do you want to read about it all the time. No!

All right, I know a little art stuff too, but I don't know everything. So my quandary is, how do I write what I know and still make a marketable story?

The September 2010 edition of Writer's Digest said this:

"Write what you know" means to write what you see differently, feel profoundly and know what is important for the rest of us to get. You don't need to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing.

Hey, you can alway research what you don't know. But you can't fake what's in your heart. Say what matters. That's writing you want to know.

As far as researching, that is SO much fun! I love surfing the internet, checking out twenty books at a time from the library and watching the librarian's face as I do. (Okay, I'm exaggerating - but not by much.) And most of all, I love interviewing people.

I'll bet you know some interesting stuff - like the fine art of sword-making (even having watched it counts), how to make a killer flambe, where the best restaurant in Seattle is, how to get rid of snails in my garden, or how to sing Mary Had a Little Lamb backwards.

You have tried something I haven't and I'm eager to learn more!

So go ahead, write what you know . . . and then some. Remember, liars are welcome here. After all, isn't that what an imagination is for?


  1. I got a piece of advice that went like this "What what you don't know about what you know." I think it's a quote from someone, but I can't remember who said it. I think it's fitting for this post.

  2. It's always easy to overlook what it is we know that's unique. I remember hearing my mother and my aunt debate recipes - my aunt asked my mother how to make lasagna, and my mother just shrugged and said that one "just does", very much like one just throws together a stir fry. My aunt nodded in agreement that one did not need a recipe for a stir fry. (My aunt is from the Chinese half of my family and my mother's ancestry is Italian). Me, I need step by step instructions for both! To them what's just normal, boring stuff is actually pretty fascinating. The stories behind how they learned to cook, for example, are priceless (my aunt grew up with servants until the family had to flee the country, so she learned to cook as an adult; my mother learned to cook with her six siblings from her Italian father.) I seriously doubt any of our lives are as boring as they feel to us sometimes.

  3. K. Howard. Amen!

    Emily, you hit it on the nose. Even in stories on other worlds, the characters have to eat and interact. It's the personal things we relate to. And we all need a good lazagna recipe!

  4. I write to learn things, invent things, and discover things within myself that I didn't know was there. And I just hope those are things that other people want to read... :)

  5. Susan, you are so right! For me, writing is such a journey of self discovery. I'm often a little shocked at what just came out and that I believe it. Some is good, some is bad and the beautiful thing is I can use the delete button, both literally and figuratively, and work on my less socially-acceptible qualities. And, the best part is, I get to go on trips to all the places I ever wanted to, all from my office chair . . . and maybe someday for real.

  6. Loving the idea that writing what you know is writing what you see differently. We all have our own lens that we see life through and borrowing someone else's through a book is a grand adventure. Here's to seeing and writing what we see. :)

  7. Or, as Emily Dickenson put it, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."

  8. Leisha, you know, it's a lot of fun getting inside someone's psyche by reading their book. It's even more fun when you know them! And it doesn't matter that they're not a shape-changing kung-fu pastry chef either. You're right. Each person's lens is intriguing.

    Emily, I like that. Slanting is the fun part!

  9. This is a great post! That's a tough question - how do we write what we know when we're writing about places no one has ever been?

    I like to take places I've been, people I've known, things I've experienced, and tuck them in between all the make-believe.

    AND I think that even if you're writing in a fantasy or science fiction setting, you need to live there long enough in your head that it is a place you KNOW as well as your own home town.

  10. Rebecca, yes, although we don't dare admit it, thank heavens for the Uncle Rico's, the Aunt Bea's, and the Dennis-the-Menace's in our lives! And how fun is that to live in another world and time. Hooray for daydreaming! I love reading a story where their fictional world is so believable, we recognize places.


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