[Write what you know? How boring! Or is it? Read on to find out what one of my bestest writing friends discovered and she realized that what she knew didn’t have to be boring at all and could, in fact, reignite her love of writing. -Shannon]
One of the most common pieces of advice a writer receives is to write what you know. And how many of us have heard that advice and thrown our hands up in the air in defeat? If every author only what wrote what they knew, our bookshelves would be filled with books about housewives doing laundry, teachers trying to find enough time at recess to photocopy 50 pages while simultaneously helping a student with fractions, and businessmen sitting at their desks answering emails.
Sounds kind of boring to me. How about you?
That’s why fiction is so wonderful. In fiction writing, we get to live exciting and exotic lives. No one wants to read about mundane everyday tasks. We want wizards and Scottish Highlanders. We want sheiks and dukes! Us unpublished writers chase these trends hoping to latch on to the one perfect story that will propel us to stardom. Only, it rarely happens in just one story. Or two or three.
Now, there are two things in this world I know a lot about: Divorce and Elementary School. My parents divorced when I was nine, the prefect age to remember all the angst it created in my life. I vividly remember how that affected me as a child. How it molded and shaped my view of the world. I also remember how little of it I really understood. As an elementary school teacher, I see the effects of divorce on kids every day. I see them shlep their bags between houses, forget homework at one house when the other parent brings them to school, and I see them try to juggle all the chaos in their lives.
I see it, and I remember it. So after working on an adult project that was going nowhere fast, I decided to try something new. The idea terrified me. I had never NOT finished a manuscript before. Even the one that is so bad it will never see the light of day at least made it through the rough draft stage. It was a hard lesson to learn. I’m stubborn and even the thought of giving up causes me to break out in hives. But I was so desperately unhappy writing this story that I needed to take a break. I needed to rediscover my passion for writing.
And rediscover it I did. It started out as a random “What If…” idea. One of those flashes of thought during my local writers’ conference. The kind you jot down so you don’t forget it, and then go back to your daily life. Only it didn’t go away. It niggled, poked, and prodded at me. When I finally sat down to write it, I realized that this was a story I was born to write. The heroine, Emma, is ten years old and dealing with her parents’ divorce. It sounded so simple when I first imagined the concept. So simple, in fact, that I almost felt silly writing the story.
Until I started. I am the kind of writer who takes months to write a draft. While all my close friends can pull off a rough draft in 2-3 months, I take 9. Color me surprised (and thrilled) when I finished my rough draft in about 8 weeks, my revisions another 3-4 weeks later. It was exhilarating! But most importantly, it made writing fun again. I’d spent so many years in the write-revise-send out-get rejected-start over again-cycle, that writing stopped begin fun.
Throughout the course of writing M&M, more than one person commented on my passion for this story. Friends and family alike became wrapped up in my enthusiasm for this book. My husband (always a supporter of my writing) actively encouraged me to get to work and finish fast. It was as if everyone I came in contact with could sense the potential of this story. Their excitement fed my own, and it’s been a never-ending cycle.
Sometimes the idea of writing what you know holds no appeal at all. It’s boring and often times we write in order to escape our reality. But when you are passionate about what you know, that translates into your writing. It adds a deeper level to your writing, and it brings the readers into your world…and that’s what every writer wants to accomplish.
I’ve been a writer for ten years. It’s a hard business, and the rejections can beat you down and make you lose your faith. Finding a project that truly made me happy to write has restored that faith. All I needed to do was remember what it felt like to be out of control and vulnerable. Remembering that has made me invincible. Remembering that brought the passion back to my writing.
Erin Eisenberg, a Midwest gal at heart, lives in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by the mountains and water she loves. She’s been writing for almost as long as she can remember, starting with her epic tale of a lost unicorn. These days she spends more time writing about real people than magical creatures, but she’s still fascinated by the mystical and magical. A firm believer that you can do anything you set your mind to do, she has made a habit out of reaching for the stars, which she does with the support of her husband and an extensive network of family and friends. While she may currently be pre-published, she has no doubt it’s simply a matter of time. You can find Erin through her website and her blog.