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Transforming What We Know


There’s an age-old, tried and true, writing idiom – write what you know.   But that doesn’t mean what we write has to be boring.  Successful writers and artists have a knack, a skill, for taking every day situations and exaggerating (or understating) them just enough to give a new and interesting perspective.   Norman Rockwell was especially good at this.


Just looking at one of his painting you know immediately who painted it.  And yet most of his paintings are based off of black and white photos of everyday life.  He saw those ordinary photos and evolved them into something much more than their originals.  Those scenes have an inherent poignancy when transferred to his canvas.


Writers do this same thing.   We take something that could be quite ordinary and (hopefully!) transform it into something extraordinary that touches readers’ hearts.  Sue Bolich also talks about this, and how obnoxious weeds inspired something entirely different in her writing.  Her persistent fight with a force of nature became the heart of her recent novel.


Sometimes, especially as a beginning writer, it is easy to get discouraged and think you have nothing new to add to the dialogue.  Personally, I dislike conflict, and I’m quick to back down if someone questions my views.  Especially if that person is older, or has more experience, or any number of reasons my little self-doubting brain can come up with.

The truth is, no one views events quite the same as anyone else.  We all have quirks and backgrounds which color our perceptions.  Those perceptions color our writings, whether wanted or not.  If you gave my sister and I the same novel outline as a project, I am confident that the resulting novels would still be entirely different.  They might have similar pit stops, but they’d be different.  Just like no two vacations are the same, even if you go to the same place at the same time of year.


Now this isn’t to say you shouldn’t take good advice. Readers and editors whose advice you trust are also absolutely essential.   Be true to the trust you put in them, and why you picked them, but also be true to yourself.  It’s OK to say, “I trust this person’s judgement, and this passage didn’t work.  Based on their feedback, I’m going to change it.”  I’m just saying not to get discouraged by that feedback, and remember at all times that the ultimate goal is an (extra)ordinary story you loved to tell, and share with others.  No one else will transform your world in quite the same way.