Guest Post: Write What You Like
by Tammy Kaehler
We’ve all heard the old adage “write what you know,” haven’t we? Well, I think it’s hooey. That’s right, I said it. Hooey.
First of all, how does that work for mystery writers? How many people in real life actually stumble over corpses all the time? (I’m not counting those in a relevant profession.) How many caterers, coffee shop owners, veterinarians, or racecar drivers really have to solve whodunits every couple months? How many of us normal people end up in a dramatic clinch where we unmask a killer that cops and PIs can’t catch?
None of us.
I heard Jean M. Auel speak a couple years ago, and I was reassured to hear her scoff at the old saying. “Don’t write what you know,” she admonished, “write what you want to learn about.” Given the wild success of The Clan of the Cave Bear and the rest of her Earth’s Children series, I’m listening to her.
Besides, wanting to learn more about racing is part of why I created my Kate Reilly Racing Mystery Series. I’ve always liked knowing how something works, whether it’s an event, show, system, or organization. When I got an inside look at the racing world, I knew I had to share my fascination with others. So I started researching, I started asking questions of anyone who’d answer, and I went to racing school. I learned about it.
Of course, if you look deeper, maybe “write what you know” isn’t entirely hooey. Maybe there’s some truth to it.
Because here’s the catch. Sure, the main elements of my mystery series are foreign to me—I don’t typically find dead bodies, catch murderers, or race cars. (Nor am I 24.) But I am female, I do work in an environment that’s more male than female, and I’ve definitely cultivated the ability to blend in with the guys to succeed. That means I can apply my experiences and my attitudes to a young racecar driver who gets stuck in some alarming situations. There’s comfort in having something in common with my protagonist.
On the other hand, not being exactly like Kate is exciting. For me, the best part about creating fictional characters is that through them I can explore the boundaries of what challenges or frightens me. I can experience the highs and lows of winning a race or finding a friend dead—from the safety of my office chair. I like when my writing efforts push me outside of my comfort zone. On one occasion that meant I drove a racecar around a track for three days, learning what it meant to race. On another, I challenged myself to set an entire mystery novel (Avoidable Contact) in the span of 25 hours.
So I think that means we need new sayings. No more only “write what you know.” How about “write what interests you,” “write what scares you” (I wonder if this is what Stephen King does?), or “write what makes you think”? Maybe you prefer Jean Auel’s advice, “Write what you want to learn about.”
Me? I’m adopting “write what you like” and “write what challenges you” as my twin mottoes. What do you choose?
About the author:www.tammykaehler.com.
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Check out Tammy's latest book:
Racecar driver Kate Reilly is suited up and ready for the start of the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona. But what’s ahead will test her will and nerve more than any other endurance race.
Even before the green flag waves over Daytona International Speedway, Kate receives word her boyfriend Stuart is fighting for his life after a hit-and-run earlier in the day. Still reeling from that news, Kate must absorb other shocks in the race’s opening hours, including an on-track accident with tragic consequences and an eyewitness who claims Stuart was run down deliberately by someone from the race paddock.
Alternating stints behind the wheel of her Corvette race car with stretches of quizzing colleagues and searching for clues, Kate taps every possible source—friend, foe, and family—to find out who’s after Stuart and why. As the race clock counts down to zero hour, Kate must come to terms with her own fears about the past and decide who she’s willing to trust. Only then can she identify who’s willing to kill to keep a secret buried—and stop them before they lash out again.