Writing, like parenting, is rife with advice.
“Have a writing routine.”
“Never use the passive voice.”
“Burp after feeding.”
Okay, so maybe that last one belongs under the parenting column, but, really, it could have gone either way.
One of the most common pearls of wisdom is to write what you know.
Seems sensible. Wise, even. Plus there’s that whole “knowledge is power” thing. But for me, “write what you feel” is closer to the mark.
Protocol, my first novel, takes place at a pharmaceutical
development company in the Midwest. Saying that’s a far cry from my life as an advertising copywriter in Oregon is an understatement on par with “Lindsay Lohan has made some bad choices.”
But I was fascinated with that world and the potential for mysterious shenanigans, so I went for it.
Cue the research. And the additional research. And the incredible kindness of experts who graciously shared their knowledge and never once looked annoyed when I asked the kinds of questions that don’t fit the “there are no dumb questions” rule.
It took time, but I eventually gained enough understanding to write about pharmaceuticals with confidence and authority. Along with that burgeoning industry knowledge came self-knowledge. Turns out, I was something of an expert after all. In life. In relationships. In the glory, strength and brokenness of being human.
The beauty part? This is expertise we all share.
It’s my belief that writing is an exercise in empathy. How else can authors create true-to-life characters, realistic dialogue or books that give you all the feels? This empathy-powered creativity allows mystery writers to pen novels from the point of view a killer, thriller authors to describe what it’s like to save the world from certain doom, and paranormal novelists to create a world in which vampires use whitening toothpaste (which, of course, stands to reason).
I may have never operated a centrifuge, but I’ve experienced crushing grief, been in love and felt paralyzing fear. I know what it’s like to be the awkward girl. To feel different. To use humor to cover pain. And I bring these experiences, along with those of the people I love, to my writing.
The truth is, the world would be a kinder place if we lived empathetically. If we tried to walk a mile in someone else’s stilettos (or sneakers). Saw life through another’s eyes. Found understanding beyond our own experiences. Discovered that we all bleed when cut and flourish in the light.
So while I understand and celebrate my writing brethren who write what they know, I think I’ll always write what I feel. It’s just who I am. It’s just how I…well…feel.
How are you guided by what you feel? Please share. Even if you’re lead more by head than heart, I'll bet we share more than a few things in common. It’s just a feeling.