Thursday, 8 October 2015

Write What You Know…?

Quite a few years ago I wanted to write fiction but had no idea how to get started. I'd written adult literacy curriculum and research projects and other non-fiction, and I'd enjoyed that. But I yearned to write fiction. I've always read a lot of fiction and couldn't understand why it was so hard for me to write it. Then I read an article in Writer's Digest magazine by an author whose name I'm sorry to have forgotten. She said that all of her books sprang from her beloved region of the American south. She had a lot to say about how that worked for her, but, frankly, I don't remember that, either. However…and this is a big "however"... I do remember the great Ah-hah moment I felt while reading her article. I got it! The way she described her corner of the world was (and is) exactly how I feel about mine.

My corner is the largest fresh-water island in the world, Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada. This is a rural place of rocks and trees, rivers and lakes and solid, resourceful people. We have country fairs, small churches and Ojibwe ceremonies. We have winding roads that require you to pay attention because the next curve could reveal two pick-up trucks stopped in the middle of the road so the drivers can chat or a doe and her fawn jumping out of the ditch right in front of you. Manitoulin has spirit and is infused with spirit.

So, once I'd made that connection between place and story, an old farmer named Samuel Blackmore walked into my mind, and his voice poured out through my finger tips and onto the keys of my computer. Of course my first short story needed editing later, but it's still one of my favourites. Since then I've written other short stories and a couple of non-fiction books. I'm grateful for and proud of those achievements and am currently working on my first novel.

There's a familiar old saying in the world of writing: Write what you know. I agree, but I don't think the adage goes quite far enough because we don't always know what we know…if you know what I mean. I think that writing what you know can take some exploring and deep listening and a willingness to be surprised. For me, it took the words of another author and a deep desire to write fiction for me to "discover" what I already knew. This place. Its stories. My stories. The joy of delving into all of them.

So, if you're feeling stuck, or even if you're not, focus on your yearnings and you'll probably also be able to find out what you already know.

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