You Know More Than You Think
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2010, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
A large number of us are going just a little crazy this winter. There's that white stuff out there. Granted, this is Nebraska, and we're used to white stuff here. However, I've had five foot snow drifts since December, and quite honestly, I've seen enough snow for a while.
But I'm a writer. I start looking at the snow and thinking about what it must have been like to live here a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago before the European Invasion. I can barely stand to trudge out to the street and my mailbox to see if there's anything worthwhile. (And why do I bother when I know there won't be?) I can't imagine trudging through snow trying to reach a cabin and the warmth of a wood fire -- if you laid up enough wood to make it through the full winter. We've had snow on the ground since November, after all, and it's going to be quite thick on the ground still in March.
It's the writer part of me, taking in the sights, sounds and feel of this exceptionally long winter and filing it away for a future story. So when I write the next novel with a massive snow storm, you'll know it came from the winter of 2009-2010.
We're repeatedly told to write what we know. Well, we know a lot of things you may not really think about. You know weather, and how people react to problems. You can apply that to any setting, whether a snow storm in the Midwest or an ice storm on planet Perilous. Don't limit yourself to writing little stories about little things. You know more than that, and what's even better -- you can learn. Don't know how people survived those winters before 'civilization' stepped in? Go read about it. Take notes. You can learn anything if you put your mind to it.
Don't waste bad weather days. Make notes. Read books when you can't work on writing. Expand your knowledge and you won't have much trouble at all with the 'write what you know' idea.
However, also remember that fiction isn't just about known things. It's more about imagination and where the mind can take us that we've never gone before. There are times when you can't 'write what you know' because no one has been there before. Go and explore those places. Build them in your mind and use all that you know and all that you can imagine. We don't write fiction just to present the world as it is. We write fiction to mirror the real world -- sometimes very closely, and sometimes with wild abandon. Don't be afraid of stepping off into the unknown. You're going to find some really interesting things out there.