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Monday, May 27, 2013

Write What You Know? Maybe Not.

The view from my front window.
I was supposed to be on a panel at ConDuit yesterday titled "Write What You Know". I'm sad I couldn't make it for Sunday. I was looking forward to sitting on the panel with Larry Correia and Paul Genesse. Both are good friends that I really enjoy talking to. But I wasn't looking forward to the topic.

I tried writing what I really know once. It was the most depressing five pages I've ever written. What do I know? What have I experienced? I'm mostly a stay-at-home mom who rarely gets to travel outside of Utah. I haven't experienced much of the world. I think the advice "write what you know" does a disservice to new writers. A better piece of advice would be, "Never stop learning."

I write about aliens and spaceships. My characters are kidnapped, tortured, shot, and pushed past their limits. I've never experienced any of those things. I don't know those things personally. But I have an imagination. And I know how to research.

I'm not advocating that you sit at home, reading and watching tv. Getting out and experiencing things for yourself is wonderful in ways that remote learning can't begin to cover. When you do travel, take in more than sights. Pay attention to smells, sounds, textures, temperatures, all the little details that can enrich your writing when you choose to use something similar.

Do I have to travel to the south pole and spend a year living with the researchers to really "know" what it would be like to live in an ice age or a very cold planet? No, thank goodness. I've experienced winter in mountains. I can extrapolate.

My advice to writers would be to never stop learning. Never stop imagining. Pay attention to the little details. Step outside your comfort zone. Try something new. You can find myriads of adventures within a few miles of your home.

Write what I know? I'd rather write what I can imagine. And that's limitless.