Write What You Know

“Write what you know.”


I hate this cliche bit of writing advice. I first heard it as said to Jo March in Little Women, and then again and again as I dove into the deep, Olympic swimming pool of the writing world.

The trouble with this advice, as with all cliches, is there’s quite a bit of truth in it.

Which is so annoying.

How does one write about magical worlds and special girls with secret powers and evil queens and glittery unicorns when one lives in THIS world? I mean, look around. This world is full of dirty clothes and dirty dishes and traffic jams and bathroom scales and taxes. Taxes, for goodness sake.

Ugh. No way.

The work around this (for me) was to make my life magic. This sounds impossible, but it’s really not. What do you want your forte to be? Become the expert in that field. Vampires? Steampunk? Space Flight? Mermaids? Look it up. Research it. The more you do…the more you find things that parallel your own life.

Trust me. It’s creepy, but true.

There’s another cliche: “Art imitates life.” That one’s true too.

For me, it was the fairy tales — true allegory if there ever was some. Once I sunk my teeth in deep enough, it wasn’t hard to see the parallels in my own life. I am a third child of a third child and a first child of a first child. I was a lost girl in a dark wood who came out the other side a princess. My youngest sister traveled the world to find her fortune, and now jewels fall from her mouth whenever she speaks. My father, the storyteller, once used fairy tale logic to hide top secret information in plain sight. And my mother…well…this is my mother.

‘Nuff said.

14 thoughts on “Write What You Know

  1. I totally agree Alethea, it’s annoying as hell that those pesky cliches usually got that way because a lot of it’s true. But you’re right… You can’t write about what you don’t know. You can’t write about deep sea diving if you’ve never been deep sea diving or you’re not willing to do your homework to find out everything there is to know about deep sea diving. At least you can’t and make it believable.

    For the record, one of the things I love about you most is that you have surrounded yourself in fairy tales and weave their magic through your life, tiara and all! What more could anyone ask from a fairy godmother who writes children’s and young adult books???

    Have a great week!

    1. “…one of the things I love about you most is that you have surrounded yourself in fairy tales and weave their magic through your life, tiara and all! What more could anyone ask from a fairy godmother who writes childrenโ€™s and young adult books???”

      Man, I want to use this as a quote. Did I mention that I love you?? xoxox

  2. That picture of your mom is fantabulous!!! That’s a story I want to know! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. I second that, Kerri! It sounds like an awesome story all by itself.
      Alethea, I think you do write about what you know. If you grew up listening to the fairy tales, they were real to you. That’s what you know.
      And you know what? Sometimes life imitates art…
      ‘Nuff said. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Sometimes the story is not as intriguing as the photo, as is probably the case here. But I will always remember the glee in her voice as my mother peered into the hotel swimming pool’s lock box, said “Ooh, there’s a dead baby in here!”, and then lifted out a plastic baby’s rear.

  3. The last image is just freaking precious. Hysterical! Love it. Love it.

    And yes, I definitely agree with every point you made, and as a writer of paranormal, urban fantasy, vampires, shapeshifters, and whatnot, just give me time and I’ll be tripping to the music, however distorted, of faes before long.

    And believe me, I do ‘see’ what I know and thus write what I know in each and every one of the worlds I create. So yeah, girl – we are on the same page.

    Great post Mermaid Alethea.

    1. I knew you, Denny, of all mermaids, would understand this point the best. Vampires? Yeah. How do we write believably about things we know don’t really exist? But sometimes we *wish* they could exist, or we could *imagine* how they could exist…and we ask ourselves the tousands of questions as to why and how, and we come up with all the plausible (and implausible) explanations.

  4. And we would write what we know, because we know fear, and anger, annoyance, hope, disappointment, joy, and all those real emotions that plague and uplift us. It’s not just that we see the creatures in our minds, but we embody them with the emotions we’ve allowed ourselves to claim as our own – however marvelous or unpleasant that may be. And in doing that, we are writing what we know, and giving our readers a character that probably is familiar to them as well.

    Write on, Mermaids!

  5. But the other thing I love about writing, is that I’m totally free to make a whole lot of it up!!!! That being said, my good friend once asked how in the heck I wrote such a believable musician’s assistant. Well, I said, twenty years of fantasizing myself as one and it was bound to come out sounding pretty darn good! Hehehe, love your post, Princess Alethea, and all its fairy goodness.

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