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.
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.
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
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.”
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!
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.
I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore
therefore, I write what I don’t know.