When it comes to writing about family, I almost never write about households that include two parents, two siblings and a pet. This may be the typical setup for many (but certainly not all) people – it was for me, growing up (and still technically is, now that I’m living at home again). It’s for that reason, I suppose, that I try my hardest not to portray that setup in my stories.
We often fall into the false notion that we should only write what we know, because apparently that makes writing easier and more credible. I don’t buy that. It’s not wrong, necessarily – many writers will dish out this advice to help aspiring writers get started, and that’s a fine place to begin. Eventually, though, that gets old and tiring, and I fear that is why many newer writers struggle, or stop writing entirely.
The solution, or at least the one I prefer to promote, is, at least in the beginning, to take what you know and try to write the exact opposite. When I was 16 I wrote a novel about a married couple in their 20s. Did I know anything about that? Obviously not. But it was new and exciting and to this day is still one of my favorite original stories.
This isn’t to say you can’t incorporate themes and events you do know about. I’ve written about cancer and mental illness too, both things I’ve had people in my life go through and therefore know how to portray fairly accurately as a result. I just think we need to train ourselves to branch out, to do some research, to reach out to people and say, “Hey, I want to write about this. I don’t know much about it, is there anything I should know that you can tell me from your experience?” Within reason, and respectfully, of course.
Finding a healthy balance between writing in the unfamiliar and sprinkling in familiar elements is hard. I’m still learning how to make it all fit together. It’s a process. If you tend to stick to only writing what’s familiar to you, because that is what is most comfortable to you, that’s fine – for now. If it gets you writing, if it keeps you motivated, not a problem. But as you grow as a writer, and your skills and confidence develop, don’t be afraid to go a little “out there.” I’m doing it more and more and this year is probably the most fun I’ve had writing fiction since I was in high school.
If you ever start feeling bored or like you’re writing the same old story over and over again, try this technique. Think of something you’ve experienced in your own life and just completely flip it around. It’s a great tool for developing dynamic characters and writing stories that are just the right amount of dramatic (without overdoing it, maybe).
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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