WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW is common advice to writers. But, is it good advice?

Does this mean that a nurse should write medical stories? Or that cowboy stories can only be written by cowboys? Did JK Rowling know Hogwarts before she introduced us to Harry? I certainly hope Stephen King doesn’t ‘know’ most of the stuff he writes about. And what about si-fi, paranormal or fantasy – pretty sure they don’t know aliens or dragons or witches or ghosts or vampires or werewolves. So, write what you know perhaps could be interpreted as write what you read. In fact, another piece of common writing advice is read in the genre you write.

I read predominately romantic suspense and much of my writing reflects my love of this genre. Dead bodies and murder plots abound. However, I also write Erma Bombeck type vignettes about things that amaze me, confuse me or piss me off.

My voice in the romantic suspense novels is serious and fairly dark, and fortunately is not a reflection of my life’s experience. My vignettes are a bit snarky and irreverent and are written with the authority of having lived through whatever situation has sparked the passionate desire to purge my emotions with words.

Recently, I’m questioning whether romantic suspense is the right genre for me. Does a lifetime of reading and untold hours of Law and Order, CSI and Blue Bloods qualify me to write suspense? I am writing what I read, and these suspense plots come fairly easy for me, but is this the best genre to showcase my voice? I’ve never been passionate enough about any of these stories to see them all the way across the finish line to publication.

Perhaps my voice is better suited to snark? My current WIP is exploring that possibility. So far, this story is flowing easier than anything else I’ve ever written. So, instead of ‘write what you know’ perhaps this advice would be better phrased as ‘write to showcase your voice‘.

The one and only thing I am certain about is that writing is a different journey for each and every one of us. Regardless of whether you are writing what you know, or what you love, or to showcase your voice, the only important thing is that you are writing! Have you written today?

Terri Rich

Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!

5 thoughts on “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

  1. I started out in Historical Romance, but learned pretty quick that I did not have a voice for it. I still like reading a well researched period piece, especially one that highlights the difficulty of women in whatever period we are in – but my voice leans towards contemporary, which I’m trying right now. However, my true love (reading and writing ) is dark, angsty fantasy. Pretty sure, that’s where I’m heading next.
    Great piece, Terri

  2. I agree completely, Terri.

    Voice takes precedence over every other point of craft — including genre choice. It’s such a powerful aspect of writing that it will override (or undermine) the plot, the character development, and the emotional truth of any story.

    That’s sort of the challenge with writing Evelyn right now. She’s a no-nonsense kind of gal, but my natural writing voice isn’t necessarily that straightforward, so I’m trying to balance Evie’s dialogue against her internal thoughts and the narrative to keep her in character while also putting on the page some of the deeper things she’s experiencing but not quite thinking about. It’s been an interesting ride…

    1. Sandra: I think your struggles with Evelyn reflect your writing experience. While I agree writing to your voice is essential, particularly early on when you’re not only learning the craft but also your own writing process, but as you progress in skill, to keep your writing fresh — both to you and to your reader — I think it’s a great idea to stretch beyond your go-to. Evelyn still has all the characteristics of a well- written Sandra K. Moore story, but you’re delivering a new experience to your readers — and to your self.

  3. Voice is a great talent to follow, and once you find the version of you that translates best into your writing, and helps you create something you can stay excited about, you can translate your individual voice into whichever genre you want to pursue. Master the skills, then let your imagination take you wherever it wants to go!!

  4. I’m coming late to the party, but I have to say that I have really enjoyed the romantic suspense/ romantic mystery novels written with a snarky voice. Isn’t there some way you can connect those? They do tend to be first person but don’t have to be outright comedy a la Stephanie Plum. I bet you could find your own perfect blend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: