Thursday, May 18, 2006

Write What You Know?

As writers, we have probably heard the expression "write what you know" at least a million times. Okay, maybe a million and two. And I'm sure most everyone past their first wip or who has attended at least one local RWA chapter meeting understands the concept. I'm an accountant, but that doesn't mean I need to write boring dribble about number-crunching for the evil corporate giant. What it means is I need to take my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions about things and apply them to the characters in my books. It's what makes them human.

I recently found a copy of No Plot? No Problem! in my local Half Price and snatched it up as I had heard it mentioned before by different successful authors. I am really enjoying the author's voice and what he has to say. The author is Chris Baty and for those of you who don't know, he's the brainchild behind NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). There is one sentence in the book that caught my attention more than "wwyk" ever did and that's

"If you won't enjoy reading it, you won't enjoy writing it."

Wow! Simple, direct, truthful. Yet how many times have we heard authors say they're going to try writing ______ next because that's the current hot seller? If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone utter this phrase and I went on to find out that they'd never actually read a book of that genre, well, let's just say me and Dooney & Bourke would both be very happy.

I've met mystery writers who've never read a mystery and can't even follow a conversation with the word "cozy" in it. They don't know what a police procedural is and couldn't tell me if they're writing one. And the list of people attempting to sell a romance because they're "easier" to sell/write/plot/market than other books is simply long and sad. They're the same people that think adding sex to any story makes it a romance. Uh, hello? Since when did we become men and equate hot sex to love?

Maybe a better rule would just be "write what you read." That way you're guaranteed at least one fan.


Anonymous said...

I discovered agent Kristin's website a while back and have been lurking on her blog and the blogs of her clients gathering up all sorts of valuable information.
Thanks for the heads up about that book. Will definitely seek it out.
Love the 'write what you like' as opposed to 'write what you think is easy to sell'From what I've learned abosolutely NOTHING is easy.
Must say though, when I quit trying to pigeon hole myself into category length romance, writing once more became a pleasure for me.So even if I am currently a fan club of one, thats better than none!

Jana DeLeon said...

Hi Lainey, and welcome! Kristin is a wealth of knowledge and a wonderful person (not to mention a fab agent). I think she's doing a huge service for unpublished/unrepresented writers with the information she's providing. God knows, I wish I'd had that kind of access to information years ago.

And you're so right - NOTHING is easy to sell. If it were, everyone would be a writer. :)

I definitely hear you on the category thing. I tried it because I love reading them (so relaxing) but I have WAY too much of a single title voice/character arc/plot, etc. Sometimes it takes a little moving around to see what is the best fit. I'm glad you've found your niche and good luck with your WIP!

Kelly Parra said...

Well put, Jana!!

Whenever I hear that "write what you know" I always think, "I'm not a criminal!" *laughs*

I love the term "write what you read" because as I check my book shelf I have 5 out of the 8 shelves filled with some form of suspense. My other loves are there too and I'm slowly building my YA keepers. *g*

And you are so right about using our own thoughts and feelings to make the characters unique and dimensional. That's what should be ref'd to the write what you know remark. =D

Jana DeLeon said...

Hi Kelly! I'm not a criminal either but I bet I'd make a darned good one after all the research I've done. :)

I have to admit that I still have a lot of YA from my teen years and pull them out and read them at least a couple of times a year. I'm building my collection of new YA also. The books are totally different from my old ones but I'm loving the stories.

kathrynoh said...

How awful would it be to write something you didn't want to read yourself... yikes, the thought of all those tedious revisions would kill me!

Jana DeLeon said...

So very true, kat. I think people go into writing something wrong for them trying to chase the market. The problem is, once you've sold, you've just established yourself as that sort of writer. You can branch out, but it's not really advisable immediately. So not only are you stuck with that book, you're probably stuck with several more as you establish a readership.

I love my book coming out in October, but all the same, I really never, ever want to read it again. 126 times is enough. :)

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