The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, where members can talk about doubts and the fears they’ve conquered as well as struggles and triumphs. Alex also poses an optional question, which gives me a no-brainer topic on which to write. Thanks Alex!
The January 4 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?
I wish I’d never heard the rule “write what you know.”
To be honest – I do not even know what this rule means. What defines “what I know”? Who decides “what I know”? How broad or narrow is this definition of “knowledge”?
Writing from only one’s personal experience is limiting and possibly not all that interesting. I’ve spent my career as a lawyer, but believe me, none of the stuff John Grisham writes about ever happened to me. I write about killers, although I, myself, have never committed homicide (yet) nor do I maintain a close acquaintance with any murderers (yet).
My current WIP includes a lawyer, a county sheriff, a reporter, a disabled woman, a homeless man, a mob guy, a realtor, and a child molester. Save lawyer and realtor, I have no personal experience being any of these personas.
I personally have known a county sheriff, a reporter, a disabled woman, a homeless man, a mob guy (he promised me a favor, which I have yet to collect on), and a child molester. But what I “know” about them is questionable – especially the child molester (an insurance agent), and the mob guy, about whom I know enough NOT to call in the favor (unless someone hurts my daughter – make no mistake – I will go to prison for her).
My lack of “knowledge” has not stopped me from mining their stories. Of course I do research on professional requirements, locales, as well as life experiences of different socio-economic groups. But in the end, my writing necessarily reflects my interpretation of that information.
Then there’s the whole “diversity” issue. Writers are implored to write with diversity, to include other points of view, experiences, voices outside of their own. But these writers are regularly pilloried because they don’t “get it right” according to another person’s point of view and knowledge. See, i.e. negative Amazon reviews for The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
The worst of it is in television and movie adaptations. Coe hates to watch police and lawyer programs with me because of my constant derision of their unrealistic depictions of those professions and characters (particularly women). I have to bite my tongue to keep from constantly shouting “objection” or remarking on how the evidence from yet another warrantless search will be excluded from trial. Where’s the “write what you know” rule for these ridiculous adaptations. And don’t even get me started on what the script writers did to Jane Rizzoli’s character.
The take away for me? I’ll write whatever I please.
I want to write about well-developed characters doing interesting things in interesting places. I make an effort to research those areas where I don’t or won’t have personal experience. I accept that those characterizations may not speak universal truths about anything. And what I “know” may or may not jive with someone else’s view of reality.
It is, after all, fiction.
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Many thanks to the awesome co-hosts for this month’s blog hop: