Write What You Know
by Meagan Spooner
We’ve all heard it at some point or another. Write what you know. In stories like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables they’re always writing fantasy, and failing to get published, until someone tells them to write the stories of their own lives, at which point they sell their work. I’ve had people tell me—not suggest, but actually tell me—that I should be writing closer to home, that there’s nothing to sink your teeth into with fantasy. That fantasy isn’t important.
It always rankled—fantasy was what I read, what I loved. There was a period in my life where, if I could’ve gotten away with wearing fantasy costumes every day, I probably would’ve done it.
The truth is that you can often do so much more with fantasy and science fiction than you can with contemporary settings. You can put characters into situations that would never come up otherwise. Settings and magic and fantasy creatures can become metaphors for things you can’t discuss directly. But the risk, and one of the pitfalls I think many aspiring fantasy writers fall into, is that the story will lack the real textures and weight that a setting more close to home might have. The story can feel groundless—something that can often turn into pointless.
It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve come to realize that I actually am writing what I know. A lot of this understanding came through working with my scary-smart editor at Carolrhoda Lab, Andrew Karre—he’d see things in my book that I didn’t know were there.
Lark is me—or rather, Lark is any teenaged girl who’s a little too smart, a little too strange. She’s that girl who never fit in, who lived to grow up fast and wanted to go straight from precocious child to independent adult. In Lark’s world, that’s literally what happens—you go from child to adult over the course of a ceremony. And when Lark is passed over time and time again to pass into adulthood, she’s left as the world’s last teenager. We’ve all felt alone as teenagers—Lark literally is alone.
The setting is the forest behind my childhood home. True, yes, the real setting is an alternate universe in which magic, not electricity, powers technology. But really, if we’re being honest, Lark is journeying across my backyard. The city she leaves is the city where I’ve lived my whole life. The Institute that captures her is the museum that captivated me.
And the choice Lark faces is the choice we all face at some point in our lives. Join the crowd, become an adult, be safe and normal, be accepted—or step beyond that and do the unexpected, the exciting, the dangerous.
Despite the magic, despite the danger and the clockwork monsters, I’ve been writing what I know this whole time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But I still roll my eyes at those people who told me that fantasy isn’t important.
OK. So I was excited to read SKYLARK before this post, but now I’m dying to read it! I can already relate to Lark and I can’t wait to read her story. Many thanks to Meagan for sharing this post, and also for offering the Skylark Swag Pack (details below) as a giveaway!
SKYLARK Swag Pack
Thank you Meagan! Entrants, good luck!