The old adage goes; “write what you know.”
As an author, I’m what I like to call a “method writer.” Like a method actor, I want to have some experience in areas I’ll be writing about so I can portray them with realism. I’m a rather curious, adventurous person, so I’ve racked up a number of experiences. I’ve been horseback riding, gone to a firing range, been spelunking, rock climbed on a bare rock face, traveled, and a host of incidental things that I can draw reference from; anything from standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon to driving a car. Not to mention going through college and moving out on my own: that’s given me tons of experience alone. I do draw the line at anything that would harm my body or that is against my belief system, but you get the idea.
But what if I did want to write about someone who is nothing like me, and has done things I wouldn’t dream of doing? The point of “writing what you know” means that since you already know the little intricacies of something, you’ll naturally have more credibility as a storyteller. If you want to write about something, you just have to strengthen your credibility. So, to fill in the gaps (when having a lively imagination won’t cut it) I do research. If there’s something I know nothing about, I look it up on the internet or in books, or even better, I ask someone who has first hand experience. If you talk to someone who rides a motorcycle, you’ll get a lot more interesting stories and suggestions than you would by just looking up “motorcycles” on Wikipedia. Research gives me the tools and the confidence to be a well-rounded writer!
But it goes beyond that, even. I am of the firm belief that the stories I pour my heart and soul into should communicate something. The series I’m working on right now has a lot to do with hope, truth, and discovering who you were made to be, but it’s taken many years to discover this.
When I first conceived the idea for this series, I couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 years old. I had grand visions for a Tolkienesque masterpiece with original languages and a whole terra firma, bigger than my growing brain could possibly achieve in and of itself at that level. Not to mention, having Tolkien as your writing mentor could just maybe, possibly be a wee bit of overkill, if you aren’t the scholarly genius that he was. The day I figured out that I didn’t have to write an original language for every people group, it was like a weight off my shoulders!
But, think about it: Tolkien didn’t start writing the Lord of the Rings series until he’d lived life a bit. He’d been a professor of English, specializing in Anglo-Saxon, he’d already gotten married, had a son, and been to war! And then it took him more than a decade to finish the series!
Now, I’m not saying that 13- or 14-year-olds can’t write deep things. Hardly. But it’s difficult to have a wealth of life experiences with just a middle school education and only having lived under your parent’s roof. I remember telling my mom, “I don’t know how to write this! What do I say? What should they talk about?” I wanted my characters to have deep conversations or issues they had to wrestle with, and there I was; a fairly well-adjusted, naive, enthusiastic girl from a happy family, sitting at the computer thinking, “Now what?” I was still trying to find myself, and yet I was supposed to be writing the thoughts of grown people. I had to blatantly rip sequences of dialogue from movies to put things together in a way that I liked. I don’t do this anymore, but at the time I didn’t have the right words because I didn’t know what it was like to have a deep, meaningful, painful talk.
Some people are amused to hear that I’ve been working on the same novel for this many years. It’s because I couldn’t get it out of my head in a way that truly made me proud.
Now, I’ve gone through high school, college, moving out on my own, experienced a bit of the work world, and made and lost friends. I’ve known what it means to live. I know what it means to be in pain, I know what it means to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and to fall on my face and pray to God for mercy because I have no idea what to do. I also know that the world keeps on turning, and that people’s lives go through cycles. Things will always get better, and there is always more to learn and experience. The more I know, the more I have to express, and all of it will make me a stronger person and enhance my creativity.
I love to sing, and when I was younger, it would kill me when music teachers kept saying that voices didn’t fully mature until you were in your 20s. I wanted to be the best I could possibly be now: I didn’t want to wait for it! But I kept singing. I did the best I could at whatever level I was at, and eventually I just started singing for the pure joy of it, and forgot all about maturing. Then one day, I realized that my maturity had caught up with my voice, and I was ecstatic! Plus, they say the older you get, the better your voice gets.
Looking back, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m looking forward to new adventures coming my way, and discovering what new stories I’ll be able to tell.
Later I wrote a post that explored the joys of NOT writing what you know.