Sunday, November 14, 2010

Baked Goodies

I'm at CrimeBake this weekend, one of my favorite conferences.  It's well run, the writers are deliciously tasty (chum!) and I like the hotel bar (a lot!)

My usual plan at CrimeBake is to hang out in the bar and see what brave writers swim into view.  Yesterday was no exception.

Writer: I'd like to talk to you about my novel.

Me: Dive in, I'm glad to hear about it.

Writer then regales me for three  minutes about a novel that could be written by anybody, and is clearly based on his professional experience as a successful executive in an industry that many of us might consider less than enthralling.

some segue chitchat then:

Me: I can't help but notice your wristwatch.  Is it for sailing?

Writer:  No, it's about... then proceeds for three minutes on a topic that IS enthralling, full of tension, intrigue and historical anecdotes.

Me: So, why aren't you writing about that?

Writer: umm...


If there's an object lesson here, it's this:  Writers hear "write what you know" and a lot of people who are starting to write take that to heart and write novels that are thinly disguised renditions of their workplace and the people they'd like to murder there.

I'd like to offer up this alternative: write what you're passionate about.  It's your passion that I'm interested in.

21 comments:

Bill Cameron said...

This is why I've never written a graphic design and web development mystery.

Melanie said...

This is wonderful advice, Janet. Thank you. Cheers. (*Clanks glass to yours*)

Laurel said...

That's a neat observation. It's sort of an extrapolation of small talk. At a cocktail party when you meet someone new, you might ask what sort of work they do but you don't really want to know all about their job. Or their kids or their bad relationships. Hobbies, trips, and tales from their misspent youth are much more interesting.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

Exactly! Great advice.

Stephanie McGee said...

Great advice! Something I think more people need to internalize in all aspects of their lives, not just writing.

Simon C. Larter said...

I'm going to be awfully disappointed if I ever attend a writers' conference you're at, and don't find a huge, finned, toothed, cartilaginous selachimorph sitting at the bar dripping salt water on the floor and swilling bourbon. Or, at the very least, a lady agent with teeth filed to points. Either way.

Tawna Fenske said...

Fabulous advice!

We romance authors are passionate about passion, so that works out nicely for us.

Tawna

Teri said...

Excellent advice, Janet. When I find my writings going to gobbledy-goop, I get back on track with two words: WHO CARES?! If I can't answer that, what reader would give a rat's a**. You are right on the money. Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

Steve Stubbs said...

Great idea. Scott Adams started passionately drawing cartoons about the office he worked in, then management started noticing an uncomfortable resemblance to themselves and passionately fired him. He then passionately made enough money making fun of them to buy and sell all of them. That is something even my lethargic soul could get passionate about.

Julie Weathers said...

Simon, she doesn't drip a lot of salt water. They bring in a nice tank for her.

This is absolutely the truth.

At Surrey, a friend was talking to a woman who was disappointed she'd been rejected by two agents that day. I was happily swilling beer when Lisa called me over.

The woman started telling me about her book. "I was married to that bastard for 26 years and took care of him when he had cancer. Then he leaves me for his secretary and blah, blah, blah."

I had left my husband earlier that year so I tuned it out and ordered a few more beers while she yammered.

Lisa showed me some beautiful note cards. "Julie, look at these. After her husband left her she went to help with the tsunami victims in Indonesia. She fell in love with them and stayed so she could help the poverty-stricken women set up micro-businesses. This note paper is made from elephant dung."

I roused from my beer induced fog. "There's your story. Why are you blabbering about your sorry husband? Half the women in the country are probably divorced. That's boring as hell."

She looked like someone hit her with a taser. "Oh, do you really think so?"

Well, duh.

Suz said...

Oh shoot. Well what if I don't know what it is I'm passionate about?

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thank you. I work in a library and I'm in graduate school to officially become a librarian. More than one person has suggested I write a novel set in a library or with a librarian MC. No! I like libraries, obviously, but if I had to spend any MORE time thinking about them, I'd go crazy, and not in a good way. Not to mention the minute details of the job are not all that interesting in writing, and the sleuthing librarian thing has been done before.

ryan field said...

Great advice.

Eileen said...

Love to hear your thoughts on the James Frey fiction factory. Part of me thinks writers are responsible for what they sign, but then another part of me thinks there is a special level of chum filled water for writers who would take advantage of other writers.

Margaret Yang said...

I think the underlying emotion is fear. Passion can be an intense thing, and some writers are afraid of that intensity. (Oh, heck, we all are.) Writers who overcome the fear and embrace their passion are the ones whose books fly off the shelves.

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

It's wonderful advice, but I feel for the dude with the watch. Awfully deflating to get that advice after so many hours of work on a boring novel. Of course, better late than never.

On the other hand, I don't get how you could slog through that much writing if you weren't passionate about your story and your content. That's a weird mindset, right there.

Sean Ferrell said...

Write what you would want to read. Write what you want to find out.
Eh, but what do I know?

Kate said...

Ooooh THANK YOU! Passion mothers better novels than expertise does, and yet we so often only see the latter as the asset.

Layla Fiske said...

Well said.

Bri Clark said...

First, of all cheers Janet, great post. Second, I've noticed in my own conversations with other authors and writers, as well as in the comments, that people don't know what their passionate about. I think if you substitute the word passion for emotion or emotional you will have your answer. What makes a character or world three dimensional is the emotion that you funnel into them. If you can find what sparks your fancy, that makes you smile and you don't know it, or somehting that pisses you off to cursing, that's your passion.

Find it, Feel it. Funnel it.

mogblog said...

I suspect that many successful writers write about their workplace and the people they'd like to murder there. How else do you explain how well some of them portray the killer?