Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Write What You Know

I don’t think I read agent blogs as religiously as many of you do, but I do try to keep up-to-date on what my colleagues are writing and saying, and one of the things I love is that in a weird, blog-like way, I feel we’ve developed our own little community. We often have very different things to say, and then there’s the occasion when one of us posts something the other had fully intended to post at some point that week, or when we post similar things on the same day. I have to tell you that as of yet, none of this has been planned.

The reason for this post is that something I’ve really learned while writing the blog is that I can only write what I write. I couldn’t write Nathan’s blog or Janet’s blog because they have their own unique voices and styles and the subjects they cover are uniquely theirs. Frequently I’m asked to write posts on certain subjects or why I don’t give my opinion on things, and sometimes, frankly, it’s because I have nothing to say. At other times, I’ll start writing a post and realize I’m boring myself. Instead of “post” I’ll hit “delete.”

If blogging were my job and not something I did in my spare time (often nights and weekends) I know I could push myself to make those boring topics more exciting or to post on things that don’t thrill me, but it’s not. Blogging is my hobby, which means I only have to write what I want to write.

So what’s the point of this? I’m not really sure. Ever have those days? I think, though, that it’s to say we all have to accept the certain limitations we have when it comes to what we do and we can’t look at the success of what others are doing and decide we need to be doing that. While I greatly admire bloggers like Agent Kristin, I can’t decide that’s how I’m going to write or that’s what I’m going to write. I can only be me, and while I can and should certainly push myself to be the best me possible, I still, no matter what, have to be me. And I think, more than anything, that’s what it means to write what you know. That you need to write what is you and not what everyone else is writing or write something just because it’s hot.

Jessica

25 comments:

B.E. Sanderson said...

Exactly! Thanks for saying this today, Jessica.

DebraLSchubert said...

Jessica, Perfectly said! I've never understood why a writer would care what's "hot" except if that's what he or she already writes. We each have to tell our own stories, write our own blog posts, and live our own lives. That's where the richness and topic selections come from.

Rick Daley said...

[At other times, I’ll start writing a post and realize I’m boring myself. Instead of “post” I’ll hit “delete.”]

Been there, done that! The worst part is when it's not just a blog post, but a page of a novel.

Here's my personal example of write what you know. I tried my hand at a Romance short story at an editor's request. Normally I write suspense/thriller or humor, but the editor liked my voice and I thought I'd give it a shot.

It didn't work. I don't read romance, and as my wife will confirm in a heartbeat, I don't know romance (NOTE: I am a very good cook, and I think I have a couple other redeeming qualities).

I submitted my work to the editor, who suggested some revisions. I tried, but I only succeeded in going from "heartfelt but funny anecdote" to "Penthouse Letter." I just skipped over the Romance part without knowing it.

Tena Russ said...

Jessica, I read your blog because I appreciate your particular voice and choice of subject matter, whereas I'll read other agent blogs for different reasons. Viva variety!

Buffy Andrews said...

Music to my ears! And thank you for taking the time to post. I appreciate all of the blogs I follow. I've learned so much and have tons of respect for those willing to give back via this tool. Keep up the great work - all of you.

Litgirl01 said...

Oh yes, I definitley have THOSE days! Your blog is one of the first ones I click on in the morning to read, and I can tell you that I am never bored! :-)

Lunatic said...

If you can't write about what you love to write about in your own blog, you've got some serious issues.

Fred

Dawn Maria said...

I do read several agent blogs and I love that each of has your own voice. You each combine the right balance between unconditional support and tough love in your own personal way. Thank you!

Jael said...

Be you! No one else can do it better!

AE Rought said...

This post couldn't have come at a better time for me, Jessica. It really hits home. Yesterday I battled with writing what I feel, or writing what others think I should write.

Thank you.

And...we all have days where our point isn't as sharp as a blade, but ti will still cut into the heart of someone's issues.

ElanaJ said...

This is completely true! It takes a lot of confidence to do this, though. As a writer of fiction and blogs, that confidence took some time coming, but now that it's there, I can write what I "know" or what I love. Hopefully, those are the same thing.

Kate Douglas said...

There's also the problem of writing oneself into a corner, something I realized I was doing on the WIP. I ended up, after trying to fix what was broken for two days, deleting an entire chapter--so what you're saying relates to fiction as well as blogs. Sometimes we start out with a half formed idea and hope it will go somewhere wonderful. It may even contain a few literary gems, but the best thing to do if you want to move on to something better is delete and start fresh. Hurts, sort of like an amputation, but I prefer to think of it as pruning. Where you've made the cut, something healthier has a chance to grow.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Top rule for blogging and writing novels (or anything, for that matter). Like Hem said, "Write one true sentence..."

ryan field said...

I think you have a great voice, Rick :) I love lurking and reading your posts.

My own blog posting sux. I do my best. But there's never enough time to focus on posts the way I'd like to.

Anna Claire said...

Jessica--I love your blog. I subscribe to a lot of agent and editor blogs, but yours is one of the few I read religiously, no lie! I think it's because you're so straightforward and I know I can always get sound advice when I come here.

Consultant Calamities said...

Just wanted to say: Great blog! Just found it a few weeks ago. I don't recall how I found your blog, but I was doing research on info about how to get a non-fiction book published.

I like your "voice", and I've learned a lot from you that I haven't learned about the publishing world elsewhere.

I believe that "Write what you know" applies not only to book writing but also blogging!

Matilda McCloud said...

I often find myself searching in previous posts on your blog for invaluable information I remember reading (and in the comments section, which often has useful informaton from posters). I have never found your blog to be boring--quite the opposite. It is down-to- earth, honest, and a great resource for me. So thanks...

Blee Bonn said...

I love your blog and what you have to say, although I have been a lurker. I just started my own blog Saturday. So now I can come out of the woodwork, although I've only gotten one comment so far (and that was my daughter because she felt sorry for me :) But I did get entries for my contest - yahoo!

I also love your voice and I'm sure curious about those posts you've deleted - I bet we'd have loved them!

jdcoughlin said...

Write what you know...No way. I can't do that. Everyone that knows me knows what I know. And I'm kinda thinking they aren't going to remember my true life story the same way. So I'm writing what I think I know. Sounds like fiction, right?

PS Great post. I absolutely agree. An authentic voice makes all the difference.

Carmen said...

Yes, I think this is true. Don't try to write how some other successful person writes. Have your own unique style of writing. You can be successful with your style of writing too, you've just got to know how to use it.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

If this IS a community... can I be the crazy Uncle kids love, but parents don't want them to be around - too much.

Ya know, like... pull all my fingers, kids, and we'll clear out these big people and have plenty of room to play!

Haste yee back ;-)

gringo said...

I totally agree with this and appreciate you pointing it out.

However (there is often a however)...

The first thing I thought was, "If only the publishing world would think this way!"

And, of course, you're an agent. I do follow a lot of agent logs. As a writer, I need to keep my pulse on what agents are thinking because one day I'm going to try to transfer from writing for magazines to writing novels.

The trend seems to be exactly the opposite of this entry. Agents seem to want what's hot, and while I don't read the genre stuff, I do read passages, and most sound like the same author could have written them. I'm not accusing you of duplicity, but I am sort of curious. What’s a writer to do?

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

A few months ago, I posted about Life's Too Short, and on the same or next day you posted about the same thing. I was rather flattered.

I haven't been blogging much lately due to a schedule change at work, but your post assures me that I shouldn't have to force myself to come up with a post if it doesn't come directly from my heart. I can't pick something out of the air or the media and blog about it. It must come to me naturally.

Jen B said...

I love that I stumbled on this post today, of all days.

I just thought of a wonderful idea for a book. A great story, a cool character, totally marketable. I sat there and let it stew in my brain for a few hours and then decided to let it go. It would be a GREAT book, it would be so meaningful to me and probably to a lot of other humans...as long as someone else wrote it. It's just not for me. I wish it was something I could do. There's no logical reason why it isn't, no list of pros or cons that I could cite, no explanation. It just isn't a story I could effectively tell.

Sometimes that realization is a bummer. But it's also encouraging. Because I don't feel that way about the book I'm querying right now. Not in the least. So I must be on to something. :)

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