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Elizabeth Scott

message for mailing list members, and Guest Blog: Writing Is More Than What You Know

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mailing list members: Because I have so many people on my mailing list, a lot of the emails I sent got kicked back to me as spam (!)

If you are on the mailing list and DIDN'T get my email last week, please contact me and I'll send you the message!



Now for the guest blog!

Today's blog entry is by Kaleigh Somers, a junior at James Madison University, where she writes for the university's paper, The Breeze.

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Writing Is More Than What You Know

For at least the last four or five years, I've put my whole heart and soul into believing one silly little piece of advice: write what you know.

Writing magazines, how-to books, and authors all said the same thing. They said write what you know, what's true to you. They said great fiction stems from familiarity because it has a sense of truth to it. Because people will pick up your book, flip through it, and read it. Because if you want to get published, this is where your credibility will shine through.

You must pour your heart out on a piece of paper like shards of broken glass and let other people take it all in: the good, the bad, the downright awful. And they will take it in because it is real. If it isn't, the glass will polish itself, the shards will piece back together, and nothing about your so-called experience will resonate.

But I don't really buy that anymore.

In the last two days, I have covered political debate in a state I'm not a resident of (VA) and captured the essence of growth experiences I haven't been apart of. I've taken in the bits and pieces gathered from someone else's world entirely and let their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations shine on paper. I've created a looking glass into their heart that does not cloud over with my secondhand accounts of their experiences.

On the contrary, I'm beginning to believe that if you can take in the raw thoughts and feelings of someone else, of something else, and create meaning out of it, you're doing something right. If you can write a story about a girl who lost a mother or was abused by her father, even if you've never experienced either of those things, how can you hold onto that one little piece of advice for dear life? How can you cling to something so strongly when you know otherwise?

The whole world is filled with beautiful experiences and heartbreaking stories, but we cannot live them all on our own. That's just not possible. That's why we read books and watch movies and create entirely fictional stories in our heads. That's why so many endings will always reside in our future. We can never know where the path will take us, but we can always listen to where other people have gone before.

Good fiction, even good nonfiction, draws from these strong emotions we feel. We can take a hundred different scenarios and begin to imagine a realistic reaction because we have felt something similar or seen something comparable.

If we can breathe life into someone else's worries and disappointments, dreams and thanksgivings, why shouldn't we?

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Thank you, Kaleigh, for that amazing blog post! (Also congrats to last week's contest winner, The Lovely Reader)