Know What You Write

Blog: What's the Big Idea?

Know What You Write

Anyone who has been around storytelling or aspired to tell stories has heard that old saw: Write what you know. This advice usually gets interpreted as: Write from your own experience.

I’m calling humbug on that.

For years I have been repeating an obscure but pertinent Henry James observation that sums up my feelings on the matter: “In order to write about dying, one only needs to have had a bad cold.”

The funny thing is that I can find no citation on Google that backs up this quote, other than links to my own repetition of it. So either I’m so smart that I’m the only one in the history of the Internet to pull this quote (but not smart enough to recall exactly where I got it from) or I’m gravely misquoting the great novelist.

But who really cares? If he didn’t say it, he should have — or someone should have. Because what distinguishes any artist, I believe, is not what he or she experiences but what he or she sees.

My first three books have taken readers to the following places, among others:

  • An animal testing laboratory on Long Island
  • A barge on the Congo River
  • A mushroom house in the Brandywine Valley
  • A hedge fund trading floor in Greenwich
  • A public high school in the Bronx

Some of these places I’ve visited first-hand. Others have been described to me by those who have visited them. Still others I created from analogs of places that I visited myself.

None of these distinctions matters to the reader who is properly immersed in one of my stories. And if a reader isn’t immersed, my first-hand knowledge would make no difference at all. The fact’s not the thing; the story is. And it’s my job to carry you along, regardless of my real-life experience.

What matters isn’t where I’ve been. What matters is where I take you.

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Newsletter

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • Other Works

  • Dark Pool Image

    The Dark Pool Book Cover
  • Cadaver Blues Book Image

    Cadaver Blues Book Cover
  • Primacy Book Image

    Primacy Book Cover
  • The Dead Field Book Image

    The Dead Field Book Cover