Over my ten years in the business, I have discovered the writing field is filled with little sayings. While, at first, they sound very insightful and inspiring, most are, at best, vague. One saying I reencountered this week is the ever-prevalent, “write what you know.” I love this quote because it says everything and yet nothing all in a little four-word sentence. I remember hearing this for the first time at a Society of Southwestern Authors convention. Those were fun times being underage and having my mother escort me. I was a shaky teenager, whose only audience belonged to my mother and a few trusted friends (high school is cruel, after all!). I had no confidence in my ability and no idea what kind of world the book industry really was.
What Do I Know?
I was at a seminar by Eva Shaw, a friend of a friend who helped encourage me into mingling with other authors. I am forever indebted to her for that. I remember asking her, “Does that mean I shouldn’t write fantasy?” I guess that line of thinking would have kept me writing solely in the high school genre, but—as an introverted writer—most of that was foreign to me as well. I recall her laugh and my puzzlement. Over the years, I have come to understand the two main points in this statement.
First, a writer must research. I must admit that I don’t research a whole lot. Let’s face it. I write fantasy. Most of it is completely unrealistic. But for both The Curse of Atlantis and the sequel, I researched both Plato’s accounting of the mythical city as well as Mayan history, rumored to be descendants. Could I have done more? Oh, yes. I didn’t learn that until doing book signings for The Curse of Atlantis and finding there was sooo much more to know about beliefs and such (alien civilization is my favorite).
Second, a writer must experience life. Writer David Morrellcomments about spending time in survival training as well as spending time in the same camp in which diplomatic security service agents train. While part of me thinks he gets to experience such valuable assets because he’s a NY Times Bestseller, the argument has merit. What a fantastic excuse to experience life! Most of what he talks about is not applicable for the fantasy writer. It’s also not like I can experience fighting dragons and living in castles with wizards (although that would be awesome!!). But I think the writer who is secluded at the computer is limited in so much. Know what it feels to ride a horse. Know what it feels like to have adrenaline pump through your veins, tour a few castles, and maybe sail a little. What about learning to sword fight a little?? Put them all on my bucket list, and it won’t be just for fun. After all, it’s for business.