Unique You

Show Off

Nick Wheeler via CompfightAre

Are you the type of writer who follows the old adage “Write what you know”?  If you are, I hope you’re being very literal about it.

On the surface, writing what you know may seem like a pretty boring prospect.  When I look at my own life: wake up, shower, pray, commute to work, interview patients, answer calls, send emails, commute home, eat, exercise, sleep, repeat… I see a list of monotony so boring I feel a yawn coming on.  I’ve come to the conclusion that writing what you know only counts about those elements of your life that are unique.

Who are you?  Dig deep and think for a few seconds before you answer that question.

When I wrote An Unproductive Woman several years ago, someone suggested to me that because AUW was set in Africa and the characters are Muslim that only Africans and Muslims would be interested in reading it.  I never believed that.  AUW confronts issues of family, life, death, hope, love, and faith, all of which are among the common threads that bind all human beings.

An Unproductive Woman is a work of literary fiction, and now almost 15 years later, my tastes and my preferred genre have changed considerably.  Currently I have a great affinity for science fiction and dystopian literature.  (The reasons why are a different post altogether.)  My previous and current genres are definitely worlds apart, but one thing has not changed.  I still write about characters that reflect, at least in part, my unique experience.  And while to many, my experience and way of life may seem foreign, I fully believe that my readers will appreciate the richness they add to my stories.

A few months ago I submitted my short story entitled Concessions for critique.  I received great advice and criticism, all of which has helped me shape the story into one that I am proud of.  One of the comments that I received affirms my point.

“One thing I liked is the fact it’s from a non-western/Judeo-Christian perspective.  I’m excited to see other cultures represented as main protagonists.  And, on that note, I like how you presented that cultural perspective here.”

If you were to randomly gather together 100 people, you’d find that by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, we all share some common traits.  Fortunately, because a world of exact clones would be horrifyingly bland, you’d also find that despite these common attributes, it is our particular combinations that make each one of us unique.  Those unique traits are the ones you should infuse your writing with.

Do I sense your doubt?  I promise, you really do have unique traits and abilities.

Are you a 40 something year old father of three whose grown thick around the middle but who can still Windmill with the best of the b-boys?

Do you remember the lyrics to every song you’ve ever heard whether you want to or not?

Are you a practitioner of Confucianism, Islam, Mandaeism, or Samaritanism?

Can you speak a second language?  Ojibwa, Hindi, Swahili?

Have you overcome and survived a serious illness or injury?

Use your unique qualities to build unique characters and situations.  It’s still writing what you know, but based on the most extreme yet singular interpretation.

Now, let’s try again.  Who are you?


(Originally guest-posted 06/2012 at http://yesterdaydaugher.blogspot.com/2012/06/write-what-you-know-guest-post-by.html)

  • storiesbywilliams

    “When I wrote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman sev­eral years ago, some­one sug­gested to me that because AUW
    was set in Africa and the char­ac­ters are Mus­lim that only Africans
    and Mus­lims would be inter­ested in read­ing it.  I never believed
    that.  AUW con­fronts issues of fam­ily, life,
    death, hope, love, and faith, all of which are among the com­mon
    threads that bind all human beings.”
    -Damn skippy! I can’t believe anyone would think this, especially in today’s age when people are so drawn to ideas and perspectives that are NOT their own. I for one am also glad to have the benefit of your perspective, mainly because I read what others have to say about cultures that are not their own, and even when they are not making assumptions or going by stereotypes, what they have to say seems horribly one-dimensional and cliched. It’s like anyone who is not a Westerner is totally rigid and the total product of his or her respective cultural norms, as if they would find no room for humor, interpretation, defiance, departure from tradition, or the million and one other things that make us all so interesting.

    “Cur­rently I have a great affin­ity for sci­ence fic­tion and dystopian
    – My only reply to that is Yaaaaaaay! Of course, I can understand that too. One of the reasons I began doing Sci-fi was because it was so much easier to relate personal experience here and write something interesting than with any other genre. Its a flexible engine, more so than a genre, for delivering timeless ideas and critiques, don’t you think? A friend said something to that effect to me once, and I was impressed because it sounded a lot like what I had been thinking at the time.

    “If you were to ran­domly gather together 100 peo­ple, you’d find that by
    virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, we all share some
    com­mon traits.  For­tu­nately, because a world of exact clones would be
    hor­ri­fy­ingly bland, you’d also find that despite these com­mon
    attrib­utes, it is our par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tions that make each one
    of us unique.  Those unique traits are the ones you should infuse your
    writ­ing with.”
    -Double damn skippy! That’s what I want to learn to do. I would like to think that before the day is out, I could try to write someone entirely different from myself and make them sound convincing. Once again, glad to have you in my corner 😉