Write What You Know

That’s a piece of advice I never take, but it always sneaks in somehow. If you write, you can’t help but write what you know. You’re not going to write what you don’t know! That would be like speaking a language you don’t understand! Lately “big data” seems to be everywhere, even in literary criticism, where some guy had a computer analyze some seven thousand books word for word and drew some conclusions out of that. Whatever. Most of the big data revelations I’ve seen lately have been on the order of “people buy more weed on the weekend” and “having a baby changes your life” and “most bigots are also racists”. The obvious has never been more quantified!

But I turned the technique on my own writings just a bit and noticed that when it comes to children in my stories, there are either kids with absent or neglectful parents, or else there are grownups with no kids, but I couldn’t find a single example in any of my stories of kids with parents in happy families, and yet … this is what I know. It’s been my life for the past dozen years or so. I’ve been quite fortunate to have a family just like that. So this has found its way into my latest work-in-progress, a story called Close to Nowhere, which features a loving father of a nice little girl. He also has a stressful job he hates, where he works at a “haunted desk” – actually an extension in a call center where the previous occupant has gone missing and is being repeatedly asked for by mystery callers who are gradually becoming more and more threatening.

What else do I know? I know that if you want to do “world-building”, a favorite topic among “speculative fiction” writers, then it’s useful to pay attention to the actual world people have built. One aspect of that world in the forefront right now is climate change, and the doomsday scenarios currently pending. I thought I’d work a bit of that in, too. In the story, climate change catastrophes are serving as perfect excuses for shady businesses to make money off of. The government is taxing people on their “carbon footprint” and the way to get around that is to pay for personal offsets. Our hero, Eugenio (who goes by the name Alex in the call center, where everyone has a bullshit anglo name), is selling offsets. A bit of this idea comes from Obamacare as well, where you have to buy something in order to avoid being taxed for not buying it. (Personally, I’m with the people who support universal healthcare, medicare-for-all, because I’m a socialist and always have been).

So those are a few more things I know that are working their way into the story. On top of that there’s my new job in the “open floor plan” office, so I’ve got a bit of mockery on that theme as well. The story’s going well, considering I have no idea where it’s headed. I never do. I’d rather make it up as I go along. A significant percentage of my stories’ readers have been critical of the way the plots develop, but I can promise you that writing is, to me, all about the adventure, and if you don’t enjoy the ride, hey, get off the bus. There’s no shortage of other stuff out there. If I don’t like a book, I stop reading it, and I usually don’t say anything about it. One last thing I know: everybody seems to want to be a freaking authority these days! They want to put their mark on every little thing, leaving a trail of five-star reatings on every book they read, every movie they see, every meal they eat, every place they go. We’re crowd-sourcing the shit out of this world. Damn straight.  (which is something else I know – for the past few years I’ve been avoiding expletives in my writing, but in this new story, fuck! they’re all over the goddamn thing!)


2 thoughts on “Write What You Know

  1. Nice one Tom! There’s a lot in here I can relate to. You certainly had me chuckling this morning. We do tend to write what we know, or at least what we can borrow and reshape from our lives into some other half recognisable form. Even if it’s the opposite of the way things are we can still sort of know it by what it’s not. I like your “haunted desk” idea. Also enjoyed your sniping at “big data”. I’ve noticed this too – if we really are so smart, then how come so much of what we see and hear lately sounds so dumb? I write like you – never know where it’s going. Otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy it and nothing would get written. And yes, if the reader doesn’t like it that can always get off the bus, and it’s not cost them anything. I look forward to reading your new goddamned story when it’s finished, and if I don’t like it (which I doubt) I’ll be sure to keep my goddamned opinions to my self! 🙂

    All the best



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