Monday, September 1, 2014
As an author, I’ve attended many conferences and sat through a ton classes on the craft of writing. And while the courses taught a variety of topics, all of which were extremely enlightening and helped me grow in my craft, one theme seemed to rise throughout each one—a niggling concept or message that dug intentional talons into my heart and held on tight.
That theme was “write what you know.”
That theme has been argued before, of course. Because, technically, that message would mean that you could never write a romantic suspense story with a policeman hero if you, yourself, were not a policeman. That message would mean that you would never be able to write about a an astronaut if you’ve never been to space, or a race-car driver, or a military vet, or a doctor, or a lawyer if you had never driven race cars, manned the front lines in combat, earned a tough degree or passed the Bar.
And very unfortunately for me, that would mean I would have never been able to write about a female baker longing to break free of her small town, average-flavored life and make it big in the culinary world, because—ahem—I can’t bake to save my life. Oh sure, I can whip out a Pillsbury roll of cookie dough with the best of them, but when it comes to creating unique cupcake delights like my heroine Kat Varland, my expertise definitely lies more in the “taste testing” field.
So how can an author write what they know, if they don’t know all of these different careers and venues?
I believe, while the message is taught with good intentions and is really more of a prod to thoroughly research your stories before hitting “send” to your editor, that it’s really more of a nod to the author’s heart.
I write inspirational fiction, which means all of my stories have a subtle faith theme throughout. Therefore, my characters are filtered through my own Christ-centered worldview. And my experiences in my faith and in my walk with Christ are going to be evident, more or less, in one way or another, through my character’s faith walk in the story.
How can I honestly write a story with a deep-rooted theme of forgiveness if I’m harboring grudges in my own life? How can I successfully pen a novel with a message of restoration if I’m fighting negativity and depression in my thoughts? How can I offer a legit source of joy and hope to my readers if I’m secretly at my keyboard, hopeless and afraid?
I can’t. I have to write what I know.
So for me, that means doing the research not just for my story’s plot, but for my character’s hearts. What internal conflict will they overcome? More than likely, it’s going to be one I’ve recently overcome or am learning to overcome right along with them.
The characters in my new release All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes both learn some hard-earned lessons in sacrifice. Heroine and cupcake baker Kat Varland must learn how to shake off her insecurities and fears and set free her dreams while trusting that the ultimate Dream Giver (God) has her best interest close to His heart. She has to believe that He can turn even her most average-flavored dream into one bursting with color and sweetness. And hero and high school football coach Lucas Brannen must discover that sometimes, letting go and surrendering his own perfect play gives God the opportunity to call a surprise play that lands the ultimate victory.
While writing this story, I had to learn similar lessons. Like Kat, I had to learn to let go of my shattered dreams and the insecurities holding me back, and believe in a better future. And like Lucas, I had to learn that surrendering what I’m holding so tight actually stifles and crushes it, rather than controls it. There is freedom in sacrifice and in letting go—and there is reward to obedience.
And that is why I will always strive to write what I know.
Betsy St. Amant has a heart for three things – chocolate, new shoes and sharing the amazing news of God’s grace through her novels. She lives in Louisiana with her adorable story-telling young daughter, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. A freelance journalist and fiction author, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is multi-published in Contemporary Romance. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to the Tangled soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching, and can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha.