The First Rule of Writing

Saturday, May 25, 2013


"The first rule of writing, Mr. Tupman, is never write what you know!" -Little Women
While Jo March had some good intentions, I'm sure, her advice to "Mr. Tupman" is quite inacurate. (Note: this is by no means a tearing apart of one of my favorite books/movies. I'm merely making a point.) For those of you who follow me on Goodreads,  you may have seen that I'm reading Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. While I still haven't decided if it's worth recommending (there's quite a bit of language) Lamott has several principles that are very truthful, one's I have been wanting to share here for a good length of time.

The first rule of writing is to write what you know. You don't sit down at your desk every morning just to invent something original. There is nothing new under the sun, as my father always says. :) 

We write to portray life in a realistic way, that when our potential readers pick up a copy of our life's work and flip through the struggled-over pages nonchelantly, they will find something they can relate to, and our efforts just may not have been in vain. It's a gamble, writing. We pour everything we are into our work, at the risk of being severely torn apart by critics, the main one being ourselves. Any how many times do you see people reading works of literature with as much relish as the author put into the words?

Writing will never be easy, but thinking about it this way may change your persective. Who's reaction could you more easily predict - a character's, or your sister's? I'm not saying you can only tell your own life story, but why not use the characters set before your eyes, instead of procuring your own? Imagination is useful, but it tends to go farther than reality, thus the division between the two.  The only real limit to employing real people in your work is the problem of similarities. Because even though the Ricky Ricardos in your life are bound to become arrogant some day because of their marvelous musical skills, when the real Rickys go to read your book they won't be too happy with the parallel. (Catch that reference? This may exlain things.)

If you aren't writing what you know, odds are your words won't resonate with your readers as real. And reader connections are what we strive for as writers.

Writing what you know is not easier, even if you know the characters better. Think about this: when you know someone really well, does that make hurting them easier? No! It makes it harder! (Not that you are purposely going to abuse your characters, but we can't put them in glass cases now can we?)

It can be a struggle. But it can be a lot of other things, too. Including successful. 

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