Marcia Strykowski

Write What You Know

Writers are often told to write what we know rather than pretending to be in someone else’s shoes. I’m not sure how I feel about this. For the most part I get what it means, but I also think one can completely immerse themselves into a different lifestyle, time, place, or even person, especially if a lot of research is involved. As for myself, my characters and their situations are completely made-up, but I do tend to add in things that connect to my real life. For example, take my upcoming book, Roller Boy. I was trying to figure out where the whole idea came from, since I don’t have very much in common with Mateo. One small aspect, I realized, was we both enjoy eating Mexican food, and like Mateo, I take it gluten-free. Sorry if you’re reading this before lunch.As for roller-skating, I’m not good at all and I can’t remember the last time I skated, but I did enjoy whirling to the music as a teen and even attempted it again briefly as an adult when my children were involved. Watching them learn to skate well and do tricks was way better than risking my own life. At left, a picture of me, ha in my dreams! And here’s the necklace I’ll be wearing for my book release.As for Call Me Amy, there are several connections, the biggest being location. My grandparents lived on the Maine coast in a fishing village very similar to where Amy lives.Miss Cogshell, a character in Call Me Amy has a big ol’ lilac bush next to her back door and so do I.

Also, in Call Me Amy, Amy watches a seal take off for the ocean. After the book came out, I made sure I witnessed a seal release, too.Miss Cogshell collects miniature animals, which brought back memories of my mother’s own long-ago collection of them (and I think she still has them!).Amy’s Choice, a sequel to Call Me Amy, features a landscape painter and not only have I done some painting, but my great grandmother was a painter, too. Here’s one of her works:There is much talk about a lighthouse in Amy’s Choice, along with a tour to the top. Like Amy, I love lighthouses, too.In Amy’s Choice, Amy helps out in the town library, kind of like me! OK, maybe not this particular library, but isn’t it adorable?I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could come up with more connections between my life and my characters’ lives, as I’m sure any author could. But, I think, what it comes down to is ‘writing what you know’ means more about the truths and emotions of life. We’ve all experienced loss, love, excitement, disappointment and a host of other emotions. To write about these feelings truthfully, whether your story is about a frog or about a leader of a foreign country is the heart of writing what you know. You don’t have to be a knight to know what it might feel like to wear that suit of armor and face a fire-breathing dragon, even if your only experience is with a scratchy sweater and a campfire.So, if you like animal stories with a coming-of-age character, set in a scenic coastal village, try Call Me Amy. To see that same character go through more adventures, such as climbing to the top of a lighthouse and setting up an exhibit of paintings, while making new friends, follow up with Amy’s Choice. And if you’re ready for a city boy who’s out to make the most of himself while practicing the fun sport of roller-skating, try Roller Boy, too! All are appropriate for ages 9 and up!

50 Comments

  1. Great post!!! I agree…just write!

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  2. Barbara Fisher

    I do like animal stories with a coming-of-age character, set in a scenic coastal village which must explain why Call me Amy is one of my favourite books. I’ve just taken it down from the shelf for another reading. My advice (not that you need it) would be to keep on doing what you are doing Marcia because you do it beautifully.

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    • Wow, how kind of you, Barbara. I’m so pleased you’re such a fan of Call Me Amy. I hope you’re doing well. I miss being in touch (as you can see, my posts are slowing down lately, too) and think of you often. Thanks for popping in!

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  3. Your post got me thinking. Why do I write and why do I write about what I write? (Did a writer really concoct that last sentence?) I was thinking this morning about composers. Why do they write music? Where do they get their ideas from? As a musician I love to interpret music but I have no original ideas in me.

    But I do feel strongly about expressing verbal ideas. I write mostly about what I see during the day. People fascinate me, but I think we can write about those things in any context-even with fire-breathing dragons and elves and hobbits or whatever.

    I love that library!

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    • Good thoughts, Sharon. My son used to compose (and hopefully will return to it someday) and I feel he and others may actually hear tunes in the same way we sometimes have stories come to us out of the blue. That cute little library is in Ogunquit, Maine. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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  4. Colleen

    Love this post! Beautiful photos as always. I hope you keep writing- whatever you are led to write- and blogging about your life and books. Thank you!

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    • Very nice of you to say so, Colleen. With encouragement like this, yes, I’ll keep writing! 🙂

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  5. I think we all include something we know in our fiction. Mine are set in places I have visited in my travels. Of course, I don’t know these places well but I like to describe the feelings and impressions of seeing them for the first time. I too love Mexican foods and lighthouses!

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    • Yes, especially for location, it’s good to get it right, by visiting if possible. A good excuse to travel to wonderful places! 🙂

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  6. As always, a well thought-out blog that fascinates, Marcia! i personally think writers should write what they want (as long as they do proper research), write what they know, and even write what they want to know, which means intense research again. Even when making up worlds, there is always truth and fact involved. Thank you again for this great post!

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    • Definitely, Lynn, so many different ways to write a story. I think it might have been F. Scott Fitzgerald who said something like: there’s only one story, but many ways to write it. I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Love this! The photos of places and experiences connecting your real life and your own writing – your books! – are wonderful. Thank you.

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    • Thanks, Pierr! It was fun to think about what connections there might be, although I’m sure I missed a few.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Best of luck with the new book!

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  9. I think each person has their own style of writing. Some of us write what we know and some of us write complete fantasy. I suppose it depends on your ideas and likes. Nice post, Marcia.

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    • That’s true; I guess I was thinking even those who write complete fantasy, still use their personal knowledge of the world to create characters and situations. Or at least their emotions, knowing what it feels like to be left out or frightened or determined, etc. Thanks, Robbie!

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  10. That library is enticing! I’m glad you wrote about connections to your characters. I once thought I’d like to write fiction, but now I know it’s not for me.

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    • Isn’t it a cute library?! You’d be great at writing fiction, Anne. I hope this post didn’t scare you away. 🙂 Really, anything goes!

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  11. Ashley

    Fun to learn more about you and what is real and what isn’t!

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    • It’s interesting how many readers think a fictional story is biographical, especially if it happens to be written in first person.

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  12. That’s a great blog post – I just may steal the idea! It’s always fun to see how much of your real life creeps into your stories, quite often unintentionally. I’m not sure when my new novel will actually be out, but it went to print a few weeks ago – have fun with Roller Boy! Love that necklace, and the miniature animals. An owl is featured in Talking to the Moon, and I’ve been looking for something special and owly – haven’t found it yet, but it gives me a reason to stop in every vintage shop I come upon in my travels:)

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    • Thanks, Jan, steal away! Yes, I’ve got Talking to the Moon checked off on Goodreads, so I’ll know when it’s released, besides, I figure every click helps. And I’m sure I’ll love it as much as your others. I love keeping an eye out for theme-related goods, too, such fun!

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  13. Michele Sova

    Nubble Lighthouse? I love it!
    All the best with your latest book!!!

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    • Yes, the second picture is Nubble. 🙂 The first one is Portland Head Light, also in Maine. Thanks for your good wishes, Michele!

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  14. Such a good discussion Marcia!!! I so agree. I think the base of the characters as people can be pulled from people that you know, and little details (like the lilacs) seem more real if you know them well. But I think books would be dull memoirs if that’s all authors wrote. Did you watch “The Great American Read” on PBS on Tuesday?? It featured the 100 most popular books in America (from surveys) and now people are suppose to vote to determine a #1 favorite! Anyway, one author interviewed on the show basically said the same as you that authors need to reach beyond their own experience and not to constrained to “write what they know.” And– fun to to short recaps on your books! hugs hugs!

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    • I’ve been hearing a lot about “The Great American Read” and I’m looking forward to watching a rerun of the program at the end of this week. It will be fun to cast a vote for my favorite. Thanks for bringing your interesting thoughts to the topic, Rhonda!

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      • Hi Marcia– I’m interested to hear what you think about the show– I was surprised that there were a lot of books I had never heard of in the top 100! I took a “quiz” about it on facebook and had read 43 of them. It will be fun to see which books comes out on top! Happy summer reading!! xox friend.

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  15. On the surface “writing about what you know” is a simple statement, but it’s actually much more complicated. You’ve captured the nuances of what it can mean to write about what you know wonderfully.

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    • Hi Sheryl! Very true, I’m sure the phrase can be interpreted many ways. 🙂

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  16. Bette Norton

    I enjoyed hearing what your connections are to the three novels you have written. I agree with you that “writing what you know” is more about your thoughts and emotions and being true to yourself in your interpretations. I have enjoyed your two Amy Books very much and I look forward to going to the big city in Roller Boy! Quite a change! I love your roller skates necklace! I am looking forward to attending your book release! Wonderful post! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Bette! Roller skate items are tricky to find, but one day I happened to see these silver skate beads at Hobby Lobby (half-price to boot!). There were only two left and I realized if I bought both, I’d have a pair. 🙂

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  17. Hi! Marcia, I love the way you connect things with your writing. I am often told “write what you know”, “write for Greek things in Greek, write what is easier for you” well writing what you desire along with what you know must be the best, I guess. I am writing what I know it will speak to readers’ hearts and I consider important to relate places and people. Thanks for reminding me!

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  18. I agree, Marcia, that “write what you know” is open to interpretation. I would never try to write a book on auto-repair or how to cook, but human emotions are just about universal and as long as those are genuine, the stories can often hold their own with a bit of research. 🙂 I love the way you draw from real life details to enrich your stories.

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    • Great way to explain the process of writing fiction and how our emotions are pretty universal. Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I love seeing the way you show up in your characters. I like seeing the connections I have with my characters too. 🙂

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    • Guess what? I am finally reading and enjoying The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow. I’m reading about five books at once for various reasons, so it will be a while, but it’s fun to go back and pick up where I left off each time. I’ll have to be on the lookout for bits of you in Fairday’s adventures. 🙂

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  20. As someone who writes historical fiction, I totally agree with your post. There’s no way I can be an ancient Egyptian, but I can use my love for Egyptology and the human experiences we all share to create a believable story.

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  21. Very well done article ma’am along with some pretty pictures. I am going to reblog this article for you.

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  22. Reblogged this on Truth Troubles.

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  23. Reblogged this on tabletkitabesi.

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