On Writing With Passion
There is a very boring piece of advice for not-yet published writers that floats around the writing community and it is this: Write what you know.
To that I ask: Why?
If you want to write about what you know, do so. If you don’t, don’t.
Do not limit yourself. Do not fence your ideas for your book into you and your life.
Do not clip your own literary imagination.
Do not require of yourself all knowledge before embarking upon writing a book you are desperate to write. That’s what research is for. That’s what interviewing people is for. That’s what reading is for. That’s what letting your imagination go stark wild and crazy is for.
Like this llama. He looks stark wild and crazy, right?
For example, there are popular books about vampires that you may have heard a thing or two about. Was the author a vampire? No. Did she bite people? Probably not.
There is a captivating book series on shelves here and there about wizards and magic. Was the author a wizard? Nope. Was she magical? Doubtful.
There are books on aliens. The authors have never admitted to being aliens.
A recent book has a man living on Mars. Did the author live on Mars? Only in his mind.
You certainly can write about what you know, it can be loads of fun, but do not feel hemmed in by the advice above.
Here’s my advice: Write what you are passionate about.
Do you love World War II history? And fiction? Write historical fiction and set it during World War II in Germany, England, Russia, Poland, here, etc.
Do you love science fiction? Create that world.
Does dystopia in the future fascinate you? What will the world look like then? How will we survive? Write about it.
Or write about a farm with a lavender field.
Maybe you have one romantic story after another darting through your mind. You know what romance looks like, feels like, but not this romance. I mean, this romance is off the chart emotional, lusty, true, and in a far off land where no one knows you. Name your characters. Write a romance novel.
Are you enthralled by suspense novels? Have a rather dark mind? Write a thriller with a killer.
Now let’s take you, personally.
You might want to write about what you know. I get it. A lot of what I write about, I know from my own life experiences.
A few hints on where to start? Go back to your childhood. What was it like? What made you cry? Was it gentle and sweet or a terror you don’t want to think about? Can you give your childhood to a character and write from there about her overcoming it, changing her life, becoming someone new?
What did you go through as a teen? Can you put your teen angst or problems – depression, rebellion, not fitting in, hypochondria, hilarious choices – into a character in your book? Maybe your character refuses to drive a car, so she bikes everywhere in her flowered skirts.
As a mother, can you throw three other mothers into a book and write about them and their families? Maybe there’s a husband swap. Maybe there’s true friendship and honesty or one drunken night in Florida that changes all of them. Maybe there’s a secret they all hold, but one is going to tell.
Are you a widow? Is your mother a widow? If you’re writing about a widow, why is she a widow? Was her husband killed abroad and she has only shady answers surrounding his death? Did she shoot him? Did he die of old age and she’s twenty years younger and finds out all sorts of things about him she didn’t want to know?
What about writing about girlfriends or sisters? Always popular. Do you have a sister? Is there something you can take from that relationship and write about three sisters who are meeting up at the rickety old trailer they grew up in to decide what to do with their mother who has dementia and believes herself to be Mary Poppins?
Perhaps it’s a weekend where they all revert back to their bra-bearing, tequila-drinking, banshee-screaming teenage years and they make new memories and heal together.
What about that divorce of yours? What about a death? What about a truly withering time in your life when you were flailing around at the bottom, like fish sometimes do in a pond? Can it go in a book?
Write what you know. Or don’t.
Write about emotions you’re familiar with, or walk with your character down a path that is totally foreign to you.
And if you don’t know something that you need to know for your book – for example, a particular time in history or a foreign country – research it.
I write about women and the chaos of life, sisters and family, men and love. I know something about each of those. But there is a lot in each of my books that I know nothing about, so I learn about it.
For example, in my latest book, The Language of Sisters, I researched the following things:
The history of the Soviet Union/Russia 1890’s – 1985.
The Russian Revolution.
Lenin. Stalin. (Awful, awful people)
Christians in the Soviet Union and how they were persecuted.
Food deprivations in the Soviet Union, poverty, life in general, including what it was like to buy from state owned stores and state run apartment buildings where heat and plumbing were intermittent.
The schools in the Soviet Union and what and how they taught.
Economics and atheism.
The role of the Russian Orthodox church
What threats and punishments a dissenter would face from the government.
The gulag, prison, Siberia.
Brezhnev and stagnation in the Soviet Union
The Cold War
When, why, and how the Soviet Union broke up.
You can do research like this, too. Or, you can set your story in a colorful, animal-talking, gnome and fairy tale land and make the whole thing up.
The most important rule is to be passionate about what, or who, you are writing about.
That’s what it’s about: Passion.
The passion to write, the passion to be a writer.
Now go be passionate.