Sunday, March 7, 2010

Writing Tips #2 - Don't Write What You Know - WRITE WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ...

When I first began writing every how-to book suggested that a writer begin writing what they know.  But while this advice might be great to jumpstart a writing career, unless you have a really unusual life, you may run out of things you "know" pretty early in the game.  And sometimes what you "know" can be an obstacle to creating good fiction.

When we know a subject very well, we're sometimes too close to it to fictionalize. For instance I love movies or books where one character is a writer and her editor actually comes to her house to help her write or just to visit.  I've been writing for almost twenty years and I've never had one of my almost a dozen editors ever come for a visit or to help me write.  If you don't live in New York or L.A., chances are rare that you'll see an editor anywhere except at a writer's conference or if you go there to meet them.  But I digress -- I couldn't write that scene because I know too much about writing and yet for the purposes of many fictional stories and movies, it's kind of cool to have an editor visit the writer.

Now, you might be saying but if it wouldn't really happen, then you're wrong in writing it -- no, that's why it's called fiction.  As long as it can happen within the realm of possibility, you're cool.

So once you get past the "write what you know" advice, my advice is to write what you DON'T KNOW but WOULD LIKE TO LEARN.  Researching has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my writing career.  I have learned how to sail, grow orchids, ride horses, win the Kentucky Derby, cure amnesia, steal million-dollar paintings, catch thieves who steal million dollar paintings, find famous missing Russian orphans, solve cold case murders, find long lost family members, sew quilts, move up in the police department, decipher psychic visions, change my identity and find lost shipwrecks.  And I rarely left the house.

Writing what I don't know engages my curiosity, gets my energy going, makes me excited to create a world where I'm going to share some of what I've learned, and I do mean "some".  Never overburden your fictional story with too much research.  Carefully pick and choose only those points that make your story better.  Always remember that you're telling a story, not writing a how-to book.

So if you think you don't know anything worth writing a book about -- think again!  The world is waiting.  What have you always wanted to learn?  Where have you always wanted to go?  Who have you always want to be?  As a writer, you can do it all!


  1. I love it! That makes me want to try it all! :)

  2. I'm writing a romance set in Wyoming in 1881. You're so right, doing research is great fun. Now my sons, ages 41 and 38, have told me that I needn't research anything--just check my high school yearbook. Obviously I didn't stand them in the corner enough when they were children. My grandson's mother is Native American, so to honor the maternal part of his heritage, I have a lot of Native lure and characters in the book. My knowledge of their culture was miniscule when I started, but I'm learning--and enjoying the process.

    Thank you for this blog. I'll be checking in quite often. Good luck to you from a "wanna-be" writer. Vonnie Davis

  3. Rachael - You should definitely try it all!!!

    Grandma Vonnie - Your kids sound like they enjoy teasing you! So glad you're having fun researching. Being a writer is really educational. It's amazing what we learn in the process of writing a story.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this.

    The first story that I wrote was a paranormal romance, but I wanted to find some scientific basis to say that it was possible. I searched online, with little hope of finding anything, but to my surprise, it was there. I won't go into all the boring details, but suffice it to say that it was a very eye opening experience.

    The things our minds are capable of!

  5. Have to plug librarians as a great resource and the thousands of resources a library has to offer!

  6. Tammy - Truth is STRANGER than fiction LOL

    Linda - I LOVE the LIBRARY and often go there. There's something about all those books that gives me a little thrill. The library is to me what Home Depot is to my husband!

  7. Great post, Barbara. I love the rebel quality!

    The "write what you know" wisdom really limits a person. On the one hand, we all know more than we think we know when we sit down and start taking stock in our knowledge base, yet, one of the FANTASTIC things about writing fiction is the FICTION part of it: the places and situations and people we WISH we were or knew or could deal with.

    I'm with you: Write what you DON'T know and have FUN!