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Write What You Know?

Write what you know.” I believe it’s the most common writing advice an aspiring author will hear. It’s a worthy consideration, but it’s seemed hollow at times and not always helpful. While it’s important to write from what one knows of life: its wonder, joys, triumphs, and heartaches, that one-liner stopped inspiring me a long time ago. In realizing those four words can mold and bend (where the writer draws from her own experience of disappointment to identify with a character’s), I wanted something more.

I found the guideline I was looking for in William Kenower’s “Fearless Writing.” I don’t read many “how to” books, but heard Kenower speak at Write on the Sound in Edmonds, WA last fall and admired his dynamic, engaging presentation. Decided to pick up a copy of his book on the craft and realized his words were exactly what I needed. Gave this one five stars on Goodreads. It’s that inspiring! Kenower tells you how to get out of your own way. Over and over again. He replaces “write what you know” with “write what you love.” I underlined those words because they resonate so so much.

I love to tell stories with a lot of heart. Would have stopped by the third draft if that wasn’t the case. In drawing from a history of a small, coal mining town where people of twenty-four nationalities merged together to make a life, I’m writing bits of what I’ve learned, not what I’ve known from experience. In considering how it might feel to only be welcome in certain establishments because of one’s color or creed, I shudder (and my gosh, reading true experiences makes me consider injustices for days), but I’m still drawing from experiences not my own.

Did I have any right to?

The “write what you love” adage helped me cross that bridge. I love the time period, the little known history of the Black miners that deserves recognition, talking with actual relatives about remembered heroes, and being able to show at least 500 (hopefully more) readers a vital piece of Washington's history. Write what you love. It’s a lot less limiting, and I thought I’d pass it along to my fellow writers in need of a pep talk. #historicalfiction#roslynwashington

P.S. I'm looking at the fall for publication. Yes, it's taken longer than expected, but "The Emblem" is better for it. The book is now in the hands of three writers, and I've promised myself not to touch it until they weigh in. I've started hearing feedback and am relieved because the work ahead isn't hard.

P.P.S. Have a question about the writing process or the story itself? Please ask away.

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