WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – IT’S MORE THAN YOU THINK
We’ve all heard this perennial advice to the new writer. But what does is actually mean?
What do you write about if you’ve never been anywhere romantic, aspirational, any of those places where romances are usually set.
Well here’s the big truth. Writing about what you know isn’t about exotic places or being places where big events happen. You can research the exotic places, the great events online these days. Tour them, re-live them on Youtube.
What you, and only you know, is the stuff you’ve experienced, the tears you’ve shed, the laughter you’ve shared, the things you’ve touched and that have touched you.
We’re all sponges, soaking up images, sounds, feelings. Laying down memory. As a writer, those memories are your greatest asset.
Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail and a whole heap more), sitting beside her dying mother, – also a screenwriter – was told “you should be making notes, Nora”. Not actually necessary. Those big emotional moments carve themselves into your psyche. The discomfort of the chair you’ve sat on for hours. The constant beeping of machines, the rattle of trolleys, the routine of the hospital, the things you said, the things you didn’t say…
Search your memory for an occasion when, one moment you’ve been laughing, on top of the world celebrating some achievement with family, friends and then, without warning, there’s a prickle behind your eyelids. Present laughter evoking a memory that has tears in our eyes before we know it.
What emotional trigger has caught you out that way?
It isn’t always the big occasions that get you and, maybe, for the writer it’s the small things that are the most valuable. Picking the first strawberry from your garden, making a daisy chain with your daughter, building a sandcastle can spark a tender memory. My Dad used to make the world’s greatest sandcastles…
For me it was at my daughter’s wedding. Not the moment when she walked in on her father’s arm. Not the vows. It was the moment when she and her new husband, and all the members of the band he played with lined up to perform air guitar to some rock number on the dance floor. It made me laugh and then, as I thought how much my mother would have loved that, it made me cry…
These feelings, emotions, are veins of gold to be mined by the writer. Use them in the same way that a method actor reaches into himself, searching his own experiences, tapping into his memories to create living, breathing character.
This is “what you know”.
Liz Fieding says...
I met my husband when we were working in Zambia and were both members of the Lusaka Theatre Club. He was playing John de Stogumber in St Joan, and I was the pageboy to the Earl of Warwick. He swore it was the purple tights that got him. I wish I had a photograph. Sadly none exist.
We travelled a lot in Africa and the Middle East then we had babies and settled down back home, first in Wales and now in Wiltshire – photographs in my gallery.
I started writing when the children were small and my first romance, An Image of You, was set in Kenya, in a place where we’d spent many happy weekends on safari. It was plucked from the slush pile because the feisty heroine made my editor laugh. Emotion touched with humour has been the hallmark of my work ever since.
We now live in Wiltshire, within the magic circle of Glastonbury, Stonehenge, Avebury and the ancient hot springs at the heart of the city of Bath.
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Liz Fielding has a new book out from Tule Publishing.