Write what you know

I guess this is a question for us all.  What should I write? Horror? Romance? An opus on Guatemalan living in 1924? A rollicking adventure through time and space? The life’s and loves of Millicent P Moore, courtesan and UN Ambassador?

Quite simply, I believe you should write what makes you happy. Write what you know – but this doesn’t mean you have to literally write only what you have seen and touched and experienced. This, to me, means write what you love.

Back when I was coming to the realisation that I loved writing too much not to ever try my hand at getting published, I flitted about with genre. I thought to write horror, as I read Stephen King religiously, and I quite liked that Dean R Koontz chap. I thought this, even though I overwhelmingly read romance. But I couldn’t write romance, could I?

To a sixteen year old, it seemed unimaginable. It was too embarrassing! No one I knew read romance! Surely I would never receive recognition in such a maligned genre, not that I used the word maligned – remember, I was sixteen and thought ‘like totally awesome’ was a rad thing to say. I just knew if I wrote romance I would be tarred and feathered in pink and orange and be escorted straight to the Tarred and Feathered Ball, only to find myself horribly out of place because of the ghastly colour combination I suffered, and so I would stand miserably in the corner while the cool tarred and feathered kids whirled across the floor in all their glory…Hmm. I think I got off track there.

Anyway, when I came to write my first horror opus, I found it hard. So very hard. I couldn’t think of what next to plot, what gruesome way a character could buy it, how to maintain the tension. I couldn’t think of anything truly scary. So, because it was so hard, I incorporated a romance into it – and, well, that sub-plot just flowed like the Dickens (See what I did there? Literary joke alert!). After this mind-bending development, I sat back, looked at my manuscript and, slowly, it dawned upon me that maybe my brain was trying to tell me something.

In horror, I always loved how the characters interacted, how they fell in love, why they did the things they did. While I love a good scare, it was more the character interaction for me – and I was forever trying to guess who paired up with whom. In The Shining, I marvelled at the fact that Stephen King could maintain tension and suspense with only three characters for an entire novel. With Dean R Koontz, I found the love stories some of the best bits (especially in Watchers). And besides, I am a romantic softie. Why fight it? Accept it and move on!

Once I had that realisation, I switched to romance and heavens to Betsy, was that so much easier! My stories flowed, my characters become well-rounded and finally I had something I thought was publishable. What’s more, it read true. It read honest. I was writing to my passion, to what I knew, and the stories was stronger and more interesting because of it.

Now, I have two books under my belt and the ideas for many more. I love what I do and couldn’t be happier. So I would encourage anyone to write what they know, what they love – and don’t worry about those tarred and feathered cool kids.

– originally written for the newsletter of Society of Women Writers South Australia Inc.

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