Ramona Richards

Ramona Richards started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. Twenty-five years later, she’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books, she’s now the fiction editor for Abingdon Press. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.

Track Changes

Write What You...What?

Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.
                                               Howard Nemerov

We’ve all heard it. I’ve heard it attributed to Mark Twain, which makes me raise an eyebrow. After all, he said about half of his well-known quotations with sardonic tongue in cheek. (The other half aren’t actually his, but that’s another story. Mr. Sam gets mistaken for Will Rogers a lot, and vice versa.)

Write what you know is, without a doubt, the worst possible advice to give a writer. First, it puts a limit on your imagination. For example, if you’re a science fiction writer, you may want to develop an innovative irrigation system for the underground gardens of Titan. I would be surprised if you are a great science fiction author and a hydroponics expert on underground gardens and a qualified astrogeologist with knowledge of the geologic structure of Saturn’s moons. Somewhere along the line, you’ll need to do some research, then extrapolate from what is known on earth.

Second, it puts a limit on your love of words. Writers love words. They love the sound of them as they read aloud from their own works. They love the way words ebb and flow through showing (not telling), revealing Chekhov’s famous “glint on glass” instead of “the moon is shining.” To limit your writing to things you know turns your vocabulary to recycled rambling.

Third, it puts a limit on your passion, that uncontrollable urge to scribble, to type madly, to empty your head of the stories that build up in there, each of them fighting for attention like a steam-driven squabble of ADD third graders. As George Orwell said in his well-known essay “Why I Write,” “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

Here’s my interpretation of all this: Don’t write what you know; rather, write what you love. If you love love, write romance. If you love unexpectedly finding dead bodies, write mysteries. If you love nonstop action, write thrillers. If you love diving into the unending wormhole of historical research, write about it!

And lest you think I don’t take my own advice . . . I love scuba diving. In 1992, I pursued a long-denied craving, completing several courses, including one for rescue diver, and to this day I carry my certification card everywhere I go. I’m proud of it, even if the picture leaves a lot to be desired. (I’ve had better driver’s license photos.) Just as I’d imagined for years, I fell totally in love with being underwater, to the point that I once walked into a glass wall at a major city aquarium, so lost was I in the idea of getting closer to the fish. I just forgot I was on dry land!

What I have not done, however, is wreck diving and underwater salvage. But both figure prominently in my books. I am fascinated by what happens to bodies, cars, buildings, ships when submerged—especially what happens forensically when one of those items is a part of a crime. I’m not a forensics expert, but that’s when “love” becomes “research.”

Write your passion, and let “what you know” be the launching pad for more engaging worlds.

If I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore myself;
therefore, I write what I don’t know.

Robert Duncan