When it comes to deciding what to write, writers fall into two camps. The first is the Maeve Binchy camp. Maeve Binchy made no secret of the fact that her fiction was entirely based on things she had experienced. She felt that if she hadn’t experienced something, she had no business writing about. And it was clear that she found quite enough material in her own life to draw from.
Write What You Know About
The second camp is the John Connolly Camp. John Connolly is a crime writer and to my knowledge, he has no experience of chasing down homicidal maniacs on the East Coast of America. But he’s very interested in people who do and he’s done his research. He told a group of teenagers at a summer camp in the Fighting Words Centre in Dublin to “write what you know about.”
I respect John Connolly’s view. Let’s face it, our own lives are really only interesting to us. And one of the great privileges of being a writer is to get under the skin of other people’s lives, to experience lives that are completely different from our own. These writers create very compelling books. But I come down in the Binchy camp, because I don’t believe you can ever escape yourself.
Can’t Escape Experience
Even in books which don’t appear to resemble the author’s life in any way, the author’s experience leaks in. John Boyne, who’s also in the Connolly camp, writes about a wartime love affair between two men. Who can say what influence his own sexual orientation had in his choice? Equally, the scriptwriter for Gladiator was going through a marriage breakup while writing the script, which may explain why Maximus was parted from his love.
Some literary critics give off the vibe that writing about what you know is lazy, self absorbed and indicates a lack of experience. But no one criticises Stephen King for setting all his books in Maine, or Colm Toibin for writing about Enniscorthy, his home town.
But writing what you know still comes with a huge challenge – to write about your own life in a way that speaks to other people. That’s what I aimed to do with The Pink Cage. I had things I yearned to say about what it’s really like to be visually impaired. I hoped that by writing the book would let other people know what it was like and give them food for thought. Writing what you know gives you a chance to process what you’ve experienced and make it universal.
What camp do you fall into? The Binchy or the Connolly camp?