Write What You Know? Writing as an Astral Projection Device
Write what you know? Is that the belief crime writers go by? I don’t think so. Most of us will never commit a crime worthy of a police investigation. We’ll never encounter a career criminal.
Although I’ve never been in a fist fight I can write a convincing street fight scene. I can also write a pursuit down a dark alley at midnight, because I have an imagination. We all have an imagination (MP).
Like an ability to sketch a landscape in front of us, some of us can do it better than others. Writing a fight scene requires not only imagination but the craft of animating characters into real people and giving them the reasons to bruise their knuckles.
I’ve never been shot, and never seen an actual gunshot wound. But how many times have we witnessed violence and death on TV and in the movies? Remember when Tony Soprano got shot in the stomach? We all remember that.
I can imagine a fist coming at me. In my imagination I know the smell of gun powder, the sound, and can feel the kick of a gun.
I found this in the New York Times, Book Section: Write What You Know’ — Helpful Advice or Idle Cliché?
I’m quoting Moshe Hamid from this article. He writes:
But I also write about things I haven’t experienced. I’ve written from the point of view of a woman, of a global surveillance system, of a writer who is being beheaded. I write these things because I want to transcend my experiences. I want to go beyond myself. Writing isn’t just my mirror, it’s my astral projection device.
All crime writers have catapulted ourselves into worlds we will never know. I’ve written from the point of view of a Chechen gold digger, a homeless teenager, a Kurdish gangster. It all feels normal to me while I’m doing it.
A well-practiced astral projection device is internet research. What would a storyteller do nowadays without Google where you can research your idea in ever-widening circles? I’m researching blue grass mandolin right now, as though people who are reading my books are breathless with anticipation to learn about what I’ve found. I’m unlikely to use a twentieth of what I unearth.
When are you simply procrastinating the writing by contacting yet one more expert? Reading one more website? Listening to one more mandolin riff?
After all, playing the mandolin is not what the story is about.
I love research. I made my living working on a series of academic research projects. It got a little stuffy and tedious after a couple of decades. I learned how to launch into an unfamiliar topic and serve it up in digestible and enjoyable hunks. Readers have asked me how many times I’ve been to Chechnya and Turkey to write Rip-Off and On Behalf of the Family.