Hi! J here. Happy Saturday to you. I thought this would be a nice little post, coming on the heels of Casey’s ‘Break The Rules’ post yesterday.
I finished college more than a coupla years ago, but less than a couple of decades ago. I graduated with a BA in English Literature and a concentration in Creative Writing. I took every Creative Writing class UConn offered and in every one the professor said, “Write about what you know.” At the time, I didn’t want to do that. What I knew, then, wasn’t very interesting to me and I wanted to write exciting things. Why on earth would I write about what I knew?
Here I am ~ cough, cough ~ years later and suddenly, I get it. A good writer should be able to find a story in anything. Everything.
For example: it’s 10pm and 88 degrees in my library as I type this. No, I do not have the heat on. It’s crazy HOT this week. I could write about that. Not just complain about it, but what does this kind of heat do to the psyche? What if my characters experienced this kind of heat? How would they react? Especially Kayla who has barely ever left Maine in her short little life. Might she give up and let the bad guys win the day?
How about this one: my little Dixie just finished Kindergarten and I during the year, she experienced some struggles with reading. She had 35 sight words that she had to be able to read in a sentence, spell, write, define and use in a sentence. Tough stuff for a 6-year-old. We practiced reading but the picture books she picked usually had some problems. We never seemed to find all the words, mostly “and” and “the”. It got to a point where I’d be reading a story and I’d pause at a word for her to read but she’d roll her eyes at me and guess saying, “the, the, the”. She had 35 sight words for heaven’s sake! I couldn’t remember them all to point them out while exhausted and reading at 8:00 at night. If I did remember, she often freaked out and yelled that ‘this’ wasn’t one of her words. If I asked her to read the book, sometimes she’d tell me she couldn’t see the words because the font was too small or too funky Or the words were all over the page and she didn’t know where to go next.
So I wrote her a story that solved all those problems. Dixie and Taco go to Grandmother’s House uses all 35 sight words somewhere in the story. And they are in blue font instead of black. This way, I remember to let her read them and she can’t freak out on me. (If any of you have a 6-year-old girl, you know what I’m talking about re: the freak out.) And the text is in a large, easy to read font, placed in a consistent spot from page to page.
I took what I knew and incorporated it into the story. I built the story around what I knew, in fact. Maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, but “Write about what you know” doesn’t have to be like real life at all.
I like to read and write adventure stories. Fun, light-hearted, not-in-any-way-like-reality stories. My stories should be like a movie playing in your head, where you get to star in all the good roles and cast whomever you want to play opposite you. But that doesn’t mean that I have to make up every aspect of the story. I steal good stuff from reality all the time, and bend it to fit where I want it. That’s part of the fun of being a writer.
So here’s today’s secret: Write about what you know, but not necessarily the way that you know it. Bend it, braid it, blend it, buff it. Make it new, not just something you knew.