Write What You Don’t Know.

Teachers and professors tell young writers, “Write what you know.” And there’s a certain truth to that idea. If I try to write about a cricket match, but I don’t know anything about the game, have never played it, have never watched it, don’t know the rules, and am not sure I can name 5 countries where the sport is played, I’m not going to write an excellent scene that includes the sport.

In the same way, being a high school teacher and having a teenager myself, I recognize when “young adult” authors clearly don’t know much about teenagers and are too far removed from the personal experience to do the subject justice. Their “teenagers” – for example – never swear or only think & act in culturally competent ways.

So writing what you know is a good piece of advice. Or maybe it’s not…

Recently, an editor told me that I couldn’t have a Latino narrator in one of my stories because I wasn’t “Mexican enough.” That’s a strange thing to say in any context, but especially odd since my grandmother is Mexican and I do speak and read Spanish. But apparently – in that editor’s eyes – this piece of fiction was an example of me trying to write what I didn’t know.

I recognize that politically correct mores have permeated everything in our culture – and I’m sure that this particular editor is simply a politically correct conservative – but her command (her imperative?) made me think of the idea on a larger scale.

Should Margaret Atwood not have written the science fiction novel within The Blind Assassin?

Should Cormac McCarthy not have written John Grady’s Mexican prison scenes simply because McCarthy had never been incarcerated?

Should Toni Morrison not have any Caucasian characters or narrators in any of her novels or stories?

Again, I could go on and on.

And where would this idea stop? What would be its limit? Why would we allow for this type of censorship of creative possibilities?

So – to keep this piece short – I’d say that instead of the old “write what you know” adage, I’d say it’s fine (and good) to write what you don’t know as long as you’re willing to learn about it.

With encyclopedias, empathy, books, neighbors, friends, coffee shops, Youtube, relatives, films, traveling, and curiosity as basic starting points, what can we not learn? What can we not write about?

For Writing Advice? Terrible Minds

Never a bad idea to go to Chuck Wendig. A clip from his new post on writing resolutions 2014:

I Will Give My Work The Time It Needs:

Sometimes a story comes out fast. Sometimes it comes out slow. And this isn’t just about a single story: learning to do this thing and do it well may not take the arbitrary 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell suggests, but it’s not learning to play beer pong, either. Overnight successes never are; what you see is just the iceberg’s peak poking out of the slush. This takes time. From ideation to action. From writing one junk novel to a worse novel to a better one to the ninth one that’s actually worth a good goddamn. From writing to rewriting to editing to copyediting. Don’t “just click publish.” Don’t just send it off half-baked to some editor or agent — they get hundreds of stories a day that are the narrative equivalent to a sloppy equine miscarriage or half-eaten ham salad sandwich. Don’t punish your potential readers by squatting over the Amazon toilet and voiding your creative bowels into the digital porcelain. Take pride in what you do. Go the distance and get shit done. Not just a little bit done, but all-the-way-to-the-awesome-end done.”

For the full post, click here (Note: strong language but excellent advice from an experienced author).

On Writing Advice, Hemingway Killed Himself and F-U-N

This is one of the best writing advice pieces I’ve ever read.  David James Duncan tries to convince the would-be writer not to write.  Makes sense.  Then he tells process.  How to begin:

“My Advice On Writing” – David James Duncan

The Death of Harry Crews – Writing Advice

Harry Crews died this week, the original Rough South author, on Wednesday.  And I’m really sad about that.  His writing advice has helped me so many times in the past year.

Ben LeRoy of Tyrus first alerted me to Crews’ Youtube video on writing last year, and I’ve watched it many times since.  Crews’ points on metaphor and answering questions are two things any novelist should listen to, and as I’ve revised my novel Graphic The Valley yet again this past month, I’ve thought often about following Crews’ advice.

I’ve posted this video link before, but I’m posting it again here to remember Crews, and to introduce him to those who haven’t heard him speak.  It’s also a great testament to Crews’ character that he looks like he does, has that nasty cough, reiterates one of his themes in his list, etc., and doesn’t care.  Not at all.  Crews is just Crews:

Click.

Emerging Writer Advice – Harry Crews

Benjamin LeRoy sent me this interview of Harry Crews, a seventy-six-year-old novelist, essayist, and playwright.

It’s a creepy interview that includes sweatpants, slow smoking, and evil eyes.  But I love it.  So many moments of wisdom for an emerging artist (novelist, painter, etc.).  Plus, he rants.

Click.