"Write what you know" - Mark Twain.
Great, here's another one of those ‘write what you know’ blogs. But hear me out, I think I have something to add. Or, at least what it means to my writing, for what it’s worth.
I started by writing what I knew before I knew that I was becoming a writer. Dragon Festival, Harvest Fire (there's the plug) was born out of my desire to read something like it. To be honest, if I knew about Goodreads sooner, it's a book that may not have happened yet, though I’m happy it did. I've found tons of great fantasy titles on here that will scratch that itch, and I'm dying to dive on in. Oh, don't get me wrong, mine is quite good ;)
"Write what you know." So what is it that I know? Here's my top five: 1) family, 2) food (I'll include tea here), 3) samurai stuff, 4) pipes, and 5) shooting sports. Spend an hour with me. Guaranteed, three out of those five will come up. It's only natural that they're all in there.
I'd venture to say that I know more about those things than the average person, enough to write them convincingly, but I'm not remotely an expert. My book isn't meant to be a manual on Japanese curry or sword parts. Far from it, in fact. Those already exist. I can't 'further those sports.'
My contribution to Twain's quote is to rearrange it. "Know what you write." That's my new mantra. Choosing my topic was easy; I wrote a story that I wanted to read. I had no idea how transformative the process was going to be, though.
There are tales of authors that take their 'method writing' to extremes. That's fine. Sounds like a sales gimmick to me, but to each their own. What I mean is a lot simpler. There are also plenty of authors that don't really, truly get to know who or what they are writing. I feel for them. The process of getting to know characters and letting them take the reins is far more exciting to me than reading (almost) anything else. I knew no greater joy than the nights when I dreamt in character. I had no idea that that was a thing. Live it with them. Listen to what they have to say. Argue with them. See the scenes. Smell the soil. Taste the tea. Gross yourself out. Get mad. Laugh. Celebrate. If you don't, how can you expect it of your readers? It also can't hurt to draw a bow if you're writing archery... (Yes, I write about archery. No, it's not because of that other book.)
Don't be afraid to explore what's unfamiliar. And don't be afraid to admit that you got it wrong in the outline.
Leonard Cohen said that "If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash." The written word is what's left from this amazing, creative explosion. What makes a writer great is the ability to share something deeply personal in a relatively faithful way. To write well is to hand over the blueprints to make dreams. That's at least what I aspire to do some day.
None of us will see the Shire exactly as Tolkien first saw it, and that's OK. What he gave us was pure magic, but I have to envy him for getting to live through its creation first hand. We are still hearing the echoes of his creative explosion. That's the beauty in storytelling; the story teller has the most fun. I get that now. Get to know what you write and savor every moment.
The ash is wonderful, but I write for the burn…
p.s. I just put the finishing touches on Chapter 7 of Book II. Things are burning bright.