Wednesday, May 30, 2001

I received an email from my friend, Krista Barrett, editor of the Writers Manual site, with a little survey. Just one question that she's asking several online writers for a feature for her site.

> ... What is the best writing advice you ever received and how did it work for you?

It took me a long time to realize it was "best advice" but I finally found out what is meant by "Write what you know." That advice was often given, and just as often misapplied, when I was taking writing classes in College.

Anybody who'd dare write any speculative fiction would immediately get a few "write what you knows" from the rest of the class. If a nineteen year old student would write about an executive with a long business career, the class chorus would chant, "Write what you know." By the end of any class, even straight autobiographies would be questioned: "Are you embellishing this a little? Come on, just write what you know!"

It took me a long time to realize that despite all the people who repeat this where it is inappropriate (possibly because it's the only writing advice they know), it actually is good advice.

The key is remembering that it does not apply to events: It applies to feelings. What emotions do you know? What pain do you know? What type of love do you know?

You can write about being the first colonist on Mars, whether or not you've been there (I'm guessing you haven't). But first, figure out how you are personally going to relate to the story. Do you know about loneliness and isolation? Focus on that aspect of your space traveler's experience. Do you know about success in achieving a difficult goal? Then that's your story. What else do you know about that could be transported into space?

Well? What do you know?

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