Write What You Know…Sort of
One of the pieces of advice most commonly given to writers is, “Write what you know.” And it is good advice. To a point. But writing what you don’t know yet can also be a fun and rewarding experience.
When I started writing the first Genius book, a.k.a. Genius, I found myself writing about a seventh-grade boy named Gabe who attended a Catholic middle school. He had one sister only a year younger than he as well as a mom who baked a lot and was more than a little fastidious about their home. A lot of this, other than the whole boy part, is reflective of my own growing up.
Catholic school? Check. One sibling very close in age? Check. Mom who regularly baked cookies and somehow still kept a crumb-free kitchen? Check (also now completely mystifying, now that I am a cookie-baking mommy myself).
But as much as I did know about the kind of people and places that populated Gabe’s world, there was a whole lot I didn’t know. Gabe came to me as a character already full of quirks and interests and passions. One of those passions was weather.
I enjoy checking the forecast and cloud watching as much as anyone, but that’s as far as my interest goes. So I found myself studying the many types of clouds and learning how to tell them apart as well as what each tells about what’s coming. I still prefer to spend my cloud-watching time with my six-year-old figuring out which one looks most like a princess crown, but knowing that cumulonimbus clouds mean storms are on the way is useful, too.
I like to watch sports. Football and golf are probably my favorites. But playing sports has never been something I’ve been good at. Gabe and I had that in common. However, Gabe did not follow my path of becoming an enthusiastic supporter instead of a participant. Instead, he became a true student of the games. He looked at sports with a scientific mind, analyzing the physics involved. He learned that you can hit a baseball farther with a smaller bat than with a larger one. He also determined that shooting free throws granny style can result in increased accuracy, especially for taller players.
When telling Gabe’s story, did I write what I know? Yes. Mostly. But did I also write a lot of things I didn’t know? Absolutely. But I know them now. And after reading Gabe’s story and giggling about his inability to talk to girls and tendency to pass gas when he’s nervous, my readers will know them, too.
So my advice to writers is that while you’re writing what you know, make sure you write some of what you don’t know. Because the only thing more fun than learning new things while you’re reading is learning them while you write!
A full-time stay-at-home mom to three children, award-winning author Marilee Haynes writes middle-grade fiction in stolen quiet moments (in other words, when everyone else is asleep). Marilee’s middle grade novel a.k.a. Genius was the recipient of the 2014 Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA) for children’s fiction and the 2nd place award for teen fiction from the Catholic Press Association. It was also awarded the Seal of Approval by the Catholic Writers’ Guild. Her second book, Genius under Construction, is its sequel. Both books are published by and available from Pauline Books & Media. You can also find Marilee on Twitter as @mgwritermhaynes.