Friday, August 14, 2009

Write What You Know ... Hmmm?
By Persia Walker

When interviewers are looking for questions to ask me, they often seize upon the fact that I worked for a while (a relatively short while) as a journalist. They usually come up with this question or some version thereof of: "How does your journalism background help or hinder your writing as a novelist?"

To give you some background information, I worked as a news writer for The Associated Press, among other entities, for a while. What did that experience teach me as a writer? To write fast, to see writing as a job with deadlines, and to assume that I would have to do research. Most importantly, it taught me that I can learn just about anything I need to know well enough to write an intelligent story about it.

... Which is why I always find it so odd, but interesting, when people tell writers to stick with "what they know."

This is not to say that I don't find it good advice. It's fine advice, but when taken from a different angle. Yes, write what you know. But don't stop there. If you don't know something, then find out about it. It's only when you feel that you "know" a subject that you'll feel comfortable writing about it.

So, yes, write what you know -- but don't let not knowing stop you from writing about something. Take initiative. Learn.

(Appropos: After finishing this post, I decided to catch up on my blog reading. While perusing agent Janet Reid's site, I found an entry called "Make MORE Mistakes, Not Fewer." It contained this sage advice:

5. Write what you don't know. I recently attended a panel sponsored by the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and it was interesting to me that five of the six authors had created a protagonist in their own image. That's all well and good, but I'm much more interested in the people I don't see every day. The one author who mentioned her protagonist was a Pakistani terrorist was the author I went out and bought the next day.
Also, I was reading an essay by author Laura Lippman. She touches on this very point to. Make sure you listen to the conversation with her, too.)


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