Sunday, September 28, 2014

Write What You Know

I had some good advice swing my way when I was an up and coming undecided major in college. While maintaining my inability to chose a major I attended a meeting the English Department arranged featuring a successful magazine writer as the guest speaker. I am sorry to tell you I don't remember his name, but you have to give me a break, it was several years ago. He came in and informed us of how he reached his level of success and explained that there was no reason we could not accomplish the same.

At the time, I am afraid I was still more of a pessimist about my writing career, but did take a lot of his advice to heart. The most significant thing I learned from him was when he told me (and it seemed like he was speaking directly to me) "Write what you know." The words for me seemed to resonate around the room and echo in my mind still today.

Now for those of you who do not quite understand this phrase it means to simply write about what you have experienced or about characters you actually know. We all have thousands of experiences to chose from, even if it is just something on a television show or on a movie scene we have seen that made us feel a particular way.

My characters are always someone I know, or someone I have seen on television, or someone I ran into on the subway. I have to visually see this person in order to give them a believable essence. I have seen this person walk, talk, laugh, yell, and cry and that is what makes him come to life on my page.

It has been my experience that writers who chose to guess or write about things they know nothing about usually end of with a piece that is cold and uninviting. Why? Because they never truly experienced these emotions in some way themselves.

Now there are exceptions such as writing fantasy. You have never slayed a dragon or been bitten by a vampire (not yet anyway), but if you are like me we use emotions that we have experienced in our own life such as, fear, rejection, terror and joy, to name a few, to relate these emotions through our story.

I have written some of my best pieces from writing "What I know." I am not saying that great pieces can not be written by simply hearing about someone else's story, a story we did not experience, but I am saying we usually write most stories by pulling from our own experiences and emotions or by witnessing other people go through similar experiences and emotions. We do not pull these emotions and experiences out of thin air.

One story I had been told and did not actually experience was my story The Gift.  The story can be found in The Greensilk Journal, an online literary magazine. It is about a boy who is asked to leave his home and his family at the young age of 14 years old. His family is struggling at the time to make ends meet and his father has decided it is time for the boy to make it on his own. With The Gift I pulled from my own experiences of rejection, anger and fear to relate what I believe the character would have been experiencing during this traumatic experience. My characters in the story are all people I either know, or have seen on television, or have met on the street. It is one of my most treasured stories.

This is not the absolute right way to create the perfect story for every writer, but it does seem to work for me. When I was a beginning writer I tried to write about people I didn't know and circumstances I had no idea about and the stories tended to be colder and had no depth.  I am sure there of those of you out there who can accomplish this with no problem, but for me this system seems to work and I am a better writer for the advice.

Give me your thoughts. Is this all nonsense? Or do you tend to "Write What You Know."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Writer's Groups...To be or not to be...That is the Question!

I will never forget the first time I attended my first writer's group. A fellow classmate in college was talking about her writer's group in class one day and I happened to be listening in. Being a somewhat introvert, I did not share information about my writing very often. This, as I am sure you probably have already guessed, is not good for an up and coming undiscovered writer. So I climbed out of my shell, desperate for someone else to read my writing besides my family, and asked her if I could attend.

Lucky for me, my classmate, who now is now a friend of mine, encouraged me to attend and made me feel very welcomed. I won't say all writer's groups will be this welcoming but my first experience was a positive one. I received true feed back on my writing. It is amazing the small things that the writer does not see that a new observant eye can. It can be as simple as a misspelled word, to punctuation or grammar. Whatever it is a new eye on your piece can never hurt.

Now, you have to take the good with the bad. Most writer's groups are going to be truly honest with you. Some very blunt. And you won't always like what they are going to have to say. They are going to suggest changes that you may think are ridiculous, but that is okay. You say, "thank you," and "I will take that into consideration," and you go on with your work.

I have to say my writers groups have made me a much better writer. These are our people. They understand what we are going through. They get that each piece we write is a little piece of ourselves. I can honestly say my writing is better because they review it. They see things I never would have. But again, I don't make every change they suggest. From a creative aspect it is still your piece. You have the last say, but their comments make you look at your piece in a different way and from a different point of view. Sometimes they are right and other times they are dead wrong, but the best part of it is that it is up to you, the writer, to decide.

I know how hard it is to commit to a group, but honestly I don't find it hard to make it to my meetings on a weekly basis because I love what I do. I love sharing my work with people who understand what it takes to create this type of art. So what does all this mean? Well, it is just my way of telling you that if you are debating on whether or not to join that writer's group you have dismissed, you might want to rethink it. It never hurts to get a different prospective of your work. And best of all you can take it or leave it. And if you are lucky you will make some great friends and contacts along the way.

If you would like to get connected to a writer's group I suggest you contact a writer's organization in your city or state. They are usually easy to access through the internet. Otherwise a new site has been started for certain cities to help writers get connected and it can be found at or if you are interested in starting your own group you can find some good tips at

Have you attended a writer's group before? Let us know how it went. Is it a yay! Or is it a nay!