Write What You Want To!

poet The old advice, “write what you know” has long been due for an overhaul, in my opinion. Some people treat it as poison advice to the writer. This is what they think:

What do most of us actually know? The daily office routine, traffic laws, relationships. All the mundane things that are in anyone’s life. Boring, right?

But these trivial qualities are the very things that keep us reading bestselling novels. I was never more aware of this than when I was reading through the Pendergast series by Preston and Child. A certain character had struggled against a rival  in another business(while having hair-raising adventures along the way) and I went to bat for him in my mind. Each of his victories against the man and his bosses made me believe in the character even more.

Then–spoiler–the character died. I was angry that this happened, because I believed in him.

Because I knew the struggles he went through. I’d been through similar ones myself.

As Countee Cullen says in his poem, “Any Human to Another,” we are never alone in our experience:

Let no man be so proud

And confident,

To think he is allowed

A little tent

Pitched in a meadow

Of sun and shadow

All his little own.–C.Cullen

So, write what you know. All your joys and sorrows, but put it into your fictional world.

Speak to your reader of the things that are human and universal.

My new proposal for the old advice: change it to–“When you write what you know, you can write what you want to.”



Granny, What Big Teeth You Have

Below is a piece of flash fiction written during tonight’s writers meeting. What a blast!

Each person contributed a portion of the premise: An eccentric millionaire lives in the basement of an apartment building, makes duct tape wallets for a hobby, always wears sunglasses (even indoors and at night), looks like an old grandmother, and makes rock-hard cookies.

We had about twenty minutes or so to create our masterpieces. The resulting stories were all over the place, from outright comedies to dark histories.

Mine falls more toward the comedic side. I forgot the duct tape wallets, but included an homage to Tim Hawkins. Enjoy!

What Big Teeth You Have

Damn kids.

I settle the sunglasses on my face and shuffle up the basement steps, rock music growing louder as I near the door leading to the lobby. In my pockets are the cookies I made earlier–hard enough to break a tooth. Or a young punk’s skull.

I unlatch the door and step into the hallway, the muted lights still blinding even through the dark lenses, and I blink, orienting myself. Music–if it can be called that–booms along the corridor and echoes in the lobby.

This is a nice place. Grandaddy built it as a luxury hotel, Uncle turned it into penthouses, and I inherited it after a family– Well, let’s just call it a domestic dispute.

Or a blood feud, if the absolute truth must be told.

Teenagers, the spoiled progeny of wealthy parents, pass around bottles of brandy and single-malt, drape themselves over furniture created by Fifth Avenue clothing designers, or dance to the jungle beats reverberating from the sound system stacked discreetly behind a potted acacia tree in one corner.

I put a hand into the pocket of my housedress and pull out a handful of cookies. “Pardon me,” but my voice is drowned by a howling note that pierces my skull even as it calls to my ancient blood. My ears twitch under the white hair holding them close to my head, and a bristle of hair stands upright along my spine.

Now, now, you mustn’t hurt them, but the cookies are already airborne, hitting their marks with greater accuracy than one might expect from a shaky little old woman like me.

The kids flinch and curse and look around. Blood trickles down one pup’s head, filling the air with its sharp metallic tang.

I grin, showing all my teeth.

Snack time.

c2014, EE