I am sure all of you have heard “write what you know” enough times to make you want to pull your hair, or bang your head on the desk, or any other number of frustrated gestures known to mankind. Don’t worry. I feel the same exact way, and would love people to stop saying it, because the horse is dead, buried six feet under, and should never be touched again lest the zombie apocalypse rise and take over the world.
There is a difference between knowing your genre and writing what you know. This may sound odd at first, but please, hear me out!
Ponder with me for a moment how Frank Herbert, author of Dune, wrote what he knew when he put space travel, the spice, Fremen, and Arakis into his book. How many Fremen do you think Frank Herbert knew personally?
How about J.R.R. Tolkien? Do you think he ran through the forest singing songs with elves, delved into the depths with dwarven lords, and sat in on long winded, drab councils with tree ents? In his head, in his heart, perhaps, but not on good ol’ Earth.
However, both of these authors, and innumerable others published across all the different categories in a bookstore, managed to write about these things. They either knew their genre, or were part of the group of founding fathers, who we have to thank for these genres.
If you write horror novels, it is most likely that you read horror novels, and if you don’t, you should be! The same goes with science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, etc, etc. Name a genre, and if you write it, you probably enjoy reading it as well.
This is how we learn what is acceptable in a genre, what the invisible laws that all the published authors seem to already know are, and how we know what kind of work a publishing company is putting out.
My personal poison is fantasy, though I tend to enjoy sci-fi as well. Now and then I will pick up a true crime novel, or a crime thriller, though I am more likely to watch movies on those subjects. I have read a wide variety in fantasy, and am always trying to read more, from a broad range of authors, as well as from a broad range of publishing companies.
As I am in the stage where I want to send my work out, I am using my reading habit to help me research into where my own manuscript will fit in. I have bought books from various companies that publish premier authors, who take unagented, unsolicited submissions, and am reading away.
My best advice to aspiring writers who would one day like to graduate to author status: read. Go to bookstores, go to libraries, get a Nook even (that really hurt to type), and READ.
~Tiffany “Kysis” Tackett