Friday, August 19, 2011

Write What You ___________

"I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it."
--- Toni Morrison

Writers are often given conflicting advice:  write what you know; write what you love, and here, Toni Morrison says to write what you want to read. As a writer, I have tried all three approaches.

Writing What I Know can be difficult. As someone who primarily considers herself a non-fiction writer, I find that I am often too close to my subject when I write what I know. I can't separate what should be included in my writing and what shouldn't. I assume too much or too little knowledge from my readers. When I write what I know, I'm better suited to gearing my writing for children so that I have the freedom to explain things from the beginning.

For non-fiction, I'm much better at writing what I don't know. Then I approach the subject with fresh eyes and can see the gaps that need to be explained. However, I do incorporate write what I know in fiction. I think it adds authenticity if I write about a girl in Ohio, or a person who works at jobs I've done.

Write What You Love was my focus when I wrote my first novel. It was a children's chapter book about two boys who wanted to grow up to be Marines. It was inspired by watching my son and I had plans to write an entire series; a sort-of Junie B. Jones series for boys. I wrote two books then moved on to other things, but those 9-year-old characters still run around in my head. I think I'll write about them again someday. I still have stories to tell about them.

But first, I'd like to try Toni Morrison's approach of Writing What I Want To Read.  I believe her quote refers to her first published novel, The Bluest Eye. I loved that book and wondered how autobiographical it was? Morrison grew up in Ohio and attended a predominantly white school. Perhaps she combined what she knows with what she wanted to read.

My problem is, I read across so many genres. My favorite books are memoirs, travel narratives, and contemporary fiction. I hope to write all three. I'd like to write a memoir, but don't think I'm all that interesting and don't think I can bare my life to the public. But a travel memoir -- ah, that would be a dream come true. That's what I love to read, what I know (since the travel experience would be mine), and what I love.

Now that I think about it, it's all so obvious. Of course I need to combine all three approaches. They aren't conflicting pieces of advice at all; they're simply pieces of a larger whole. I need to write what I know, what I love AND what I want to read. I need to write a travel narrative! Now all I need to do is some extensive travel...

1 comment:

  1. Yep, I agree -- that threesome is the sweet spot. Those are the books that make it to the top and stay there. (Like The Help?)