Sunday, March 29, 2015

Write What You Know? OH NO!

My husband was reading a section of the historical fiction novel I'm working on. After reading it he said something along the lines of, "I really like the scene between the father and daughter, but the fight scene before it I didn't like as much." Then he paused and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I thought that writers should only write what they know. So, why are you writing war scenes?"
Now, grant it, I had asked him to read it and tell me his HONEST thoughts, so I can't get too bothered (but I did have to count to ten before I responded).

It made me stop and ponder the notion of only writing what we know. I first heard it at a writer's conference. A well-meaning publishing professional stated that authors needed to stick with they know. That it makes the writing more "authentic." It makes theory. A lot of our life experiences show up in our writing. Also, I'm sure that agents and editors reading disingenuous stories might make their eyes glaze over.

But every story I write is new to me. Sure, character experiences might be similar to different experiences in my own life, but each story is unique with complicated plots, unique settings, distinct time periods, etc. I am not an expert at all of the story lines, but I see it as a good thing. Writing what is unfamiliar to me allows me to grow as a writer. I research, then I research some more. I read. A lot. I make plot notes, and setting notes, and conflict outlines.

So, I'm taking my husband's comments as a challenge. I will rework the war scene. I will rethink it, interview a few men who've been in the trenches, maybe even watch a war movie or two. Then I will revise and make it better. I will keep doing that until I get it right.

Because writing what I "don't" know is a challenge. And it's a challenge I gladly accept.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Don't Get Too Comfortable!

Get out of that writing box!! 

I've been to many writing conferences where I've heard the cliched saying, "Write what you know."


How can I grow as a writer if I don't push myself out of that comfortable box I like to lounge in (it is pretty comfortable in there). Writing what you know is a great place to start, yes, but venturing out to a new genre or book style is a great way of becoming an even better writer.

1. First of all, it forces you to RESEARCH. If you want to write well, especially outside of your comfort zone, you have to read, read, read (that's the BEST kind of research!). Read books in that genre, make notes about what works with them, what are the commonalities in the genre, any stereotypes to steer away from, that sort of thing. Then it involves researching whatever novel idea is percolating in that brain of yours. If you want to venture into historical fiction (like my fantastic writer friend, Rachel Anderson) then you need to research that time period and make sure it is reflected in the story. This is not always easy, and it is definitely time consuming, but it will help your writing be that much more authentic.

2. Next, it makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about writing! Sitting down, turning on the computer, and just going at it, is hard to do when your new to the "world" you're creating. Creating an outline, a map of the setting, summaries of characters and their arc, all that is going to make you sweat a little. But all of it is super important when thinking outside of your comfort box.

3. It opens the door for new acquaintances/friendships. By seeking out those who write in that genre you're exploring, it expands your circle of totally awesome people you associate with, and hey, there's nothing wrong with that!

4. It can SHOVE you out of a writing rut! 'Nuf said.

I have had this idea for a retelling of a historical character for a couple years, but I let it sit for a couple years. It's scary because it's a genre I've never written, and it's going to need a ton of research in order to "get it right." Finally, I made a decision that I was just going to push myself out of my comfort zone and do it. What I've learned has blown me away. Yes, the research has been intense, but I have fallen into this story completely. Yes, I second-guess myself about whether I'm good enough to tackle this writing project, but if not me, then who?

Let me know about how you've stepped out of your comfort zone when it comes to writing. Any tips that have worked for you?