Writing advice is easy to come by. What to do with it can be a mystery.
Take a look around the internet and you’ll find plenty of free advice, and more than enough takes on this bit, which is frequently attributed to Mark Twain:
Write what you know.
Some people write about themselves because that’s what they know best. Others write about rock climbing, or travel, or science, or whatever subject they know well.
The concept is complicated when it comes to writing fiction, as this piece on Literary Hub illustrates.
I think I’ve led an interesting life so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a book about it. Most of my writing has been nonfiction based on research and interviews on various topics. Still, I’ve made use of what I know from experience in my Detective Red Shaw novels. The following excerpt from North of Grand is one example, which draws on my love of bicycling as well as other lived experience. It’s my favorite way of writing what I know.
In which Red Shaw visits a bike shop…
…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.
Half an hour later he was parked outside the place watching a middle-aged couple load two new bicycles on a brand-new rack on the back of a shiny, black SUV. They chatted with a young blonde woman who he guessed had just made the sale. The scene took him back to the time he and Sally bought new bicycles at a discount store and rode them three times one summer. He wasn’t sure where they’d ended up.
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
Inside the store he took a few minutes to browse, inspecting the lines of sleek, pricey road bikes and rugged, shock-equipped mountain bikes. He wondered how many of them ever actually saw a mountain. Assorted helmets hung on one wall near displays of water bottles and gloves and seat bags and other paraphernalia. There were hard, narrow saddles that weighed nothing or close to it. He could buy balm and padded shorts for his butt to ward off pain and chafing, then spend more bucks on tight, techno-wonder jerseys to keep him cool as he sped down some road in the sun. He picked up a coffee-can-size container of powder from a nearby display. The label claimed it would keep his electrolytes in balance and help him stave off dehydration if only he would mix it properly and drink the proper amount every hour during a long ride, then mix and drink more later to make sure he’d gotten enough.
The only employee in sight was adjusting the brakes on a bicycle in the shop area. A surly type with long, graying hair, he looked over once then turned back to the brake job without saying a word. He seemed to assume that Shaw wasn’t going to buy anything. He was right.
“Can I help you with something, sir?” The young woman from the parking lot appeared beside him. Up close, he guessed she’d be in her thirties, a little older than she looked outside. Attractive and obviously fit. Tess, her ID tag said.
“Thanks, but I’m just kind of looking around. Some people I work with swear that riding a bike has been all kinds of good for their health, mental and otherwise.”
She smiled at that. “I’m sure it has. It’s a great way to spend some time, get some exercise, get to work, whatever. I ride here every day, eight miles each way, unless there’s snow and ice.”
“You’re kidding,” Shaw said. “That’s a long way, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” she said. “If I wasn’t working I’d be out with my club for about fifty miles, and we’re doing a metric century tomorrow.”
“A metric century?”
“A hundred kilometers. Sixty-two miles or so.”
Shaw grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like all that much fun.”Continue reading “Writing what you know – from experience”