Don’t write what you know Part II

Don’t write what you know Part II

I subscribe to an online thing, Advice for Writers, that comes to my email daily. It’s great. I recommend it to anyone who is writing or wants to write. Or may will write someday, maybe even tomorrow.

A recent post, dated 17 Dec 2014, is from Nikki Giovanni. She says: Writers don’t write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

You’ve probably heard the advice about writing what you know. How very limiting. Think of all the books that could never be written if that were the way to go: Stephen Crane was never in a battle yet wrote The Red Badge of Courage, Charlotte Bronte was never a governess before she wrote Jane Eyre, Jules Verne never left terra firma before he wrote From The Earth To The Moon. And what about all those vampire books – bet those authors never even saw one, much less, ahem, kissed one.

People ask writers all the time about where they get their ideas. Well, you can get ideas from the newspaper, from riding the bus, or from sitting behind a one-eyed, one-legged man at church. But the real answer is that our ideas come from imagining what it feels like to be a one-eyed, one-legged man, or someone who ran over a pedestrian because he was drunk, or someone who owns slaves but thinks he’s a good guy. It’s a willingness to engage the imagination in empathizing with people whose lives are not like our own.

To be specific and personal, I have never been a slave, being a white woman born in the United States in the 20th century. Pretty privileged person, on the whole. But I have written four books (critically acclaimed, as they say) about slavery. The author’s aim is to take the reader along with her in feeling what it is like to be other than they are. So thank you, Ms. Giovanni, for putting this thought so succinctly and convincingly. And thanks to Advice to Writers, too.

About glcraig

Gretchen Craig’s lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval. Gretchen was born and raised in Florida. She’s lived in climates and terrain as diverse as the white beaches of the Gulf Coast, the rocky shores of Maine, and the dusty plains of Texas. Her awareness of place imbues every page with the smell of the bayous of Louisiana, the taste of gumbo in New Orleans, or the grit of a desert storm. Rich in compelling characters and historical detail, Always and Forever is a sweeping saga of Josie and Cleo, mistress and slave. Amid Cajuns and Creoles, the bonds between these two remarkable women are tested by prejudice, tragedy, and passion for one extraordinary man. Gretchen’s first novel won the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence for Mainstream with Romantic Elements and was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in the Historical Novel Society reviews. Ever My Love, winner of the Booksellers Best Award from the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, continues the story of Cleo and Josie’s families, of their struggle for principle, justice, and love in a world where the underpinnings of the plantation culture are crumbling. Crimson Sky, inspired by the pueblos, mountains, and deserts of New Mexico, evokes the lives of people facing neighboring marauders and drought. Now the march of Spanish Conquistadors up the Rio Grande threatens their homeland, their culture, and their entire belief system.
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