I was doing some writing on the train this morning, and thinking about a famous quote by Mark Twain. He supposedly said, "Write what you know."
It's taken me the better part of 30 years to understand what he meant, and absorb the importance of it, as an author.
When I write characters, experiences, plot details, humanizing aspects to the people and situations in my books, I do so following this important, possibly most important rule about writing.
WHAT I KNOW is the way I feel when I'm sad, angry, happy, turned on, or curious. But it's about more than just me. An enormous part of knowing is being an observer of others.
I also know the hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny little details in the endless variation of how people I know act, and react. I'll take my friend Aiden's gender fluidity, my brother Spacey's firm, quiet resolve to learn something, my wife's delighted laughter and excitement, my friend Moliére's anticipation of finding new joys and tap into them. I mix and match my memories of people, and the things which inform them.
In a very real way, I've come to understand that writing fiction is a form of emotional alchemy. You beg, borrow, and steal from your own life and that of everyone around you.
Just this morning I was working on a character in a Littleton back-story of sorts. He's a womanizing, misogynist, breast-obsessed judgmental asshole. Lucky for me, I had a few jars of experiences with just such a person saved up, back in the memory store room. I uncorked them, and poured them into this character, and worked up a nice good froth of healthy dislike for him.
I'm grateful I figured out how to write what I know.