One of the most common writing tips I've heard was, "Write what you know." I guess that rules out writing about cooking, because when I think of "cooking", I think, "Open freezer, take food out of box, and put into oven." I also think, "Pick up phone and order pizza."
I also don't know anything about professional sports. When I think of the Superbowl, I think, "Yay! This is the one day of the year where I won't be tempted to wrestle anyone for getting the last doughnut at Starbucks, because everyone else will be at home watching TV!" or "Ah, the Superbowl. Yet another excuse for my neighbors to get drunk."
They say that writers can do research to learn more about the topics they're unfamiliar with. But if I have to watch the Superbowl (or any football game, for that matter), I might as well stop drinking coffee, take a day off, and just relax. And that would just be MADNESS, I tell you!
I've been struggling with my manuscript lately. I love reading chick lit, and I like writing it too. But at the heart of most chick lit novels is a love story. And that's a problem for me, because I've never been in love.
I know what it's like to like someone. I also know what it's like to lust after someone. (On the other hand, if the muscular guys at the gym stopped wearing tank tops, I probably wouldn't know what lust even means.) And looking back on my teenage years, I remember what it's like to be infatuated with someone, to the point that I wrote his name all over my notebooks, drew little hearts, and imagined dancing with him in a Backstreet Boys video (you roll your eyes at me now, but you KNOW what it feels like).
But it's difficult for me to describe my main character in love without using a bunch of cliches, like a pounding heart and sweaty hands. But my heart pounds and my hands get sweaty when I work out at the gym, or when I'm running away from the health foods store and in the direction of the candy store, or when I think of what the country will be like if Perez Hilton becomes President.
It's easy for me to write about how my main character feels when she's disappointed, ignored, or insulted by her dates, seeing as how all of those things have happened to me. But when I think of all the dates that I've been on in the past couple years, I can think of only one date where I actually had fun and genuinely liked the guy. (And even he didn't call.)
I could write about how I imagine it feels like, or how I've observed it from seeing other people in love. I could also write about someone like me: someone who has never been in love but wants to be.
Or maybe I could compare it to other things I love. I don't love wearing miniskirts, but I do love to make fun of the people who wear them when it's five degrees out.
I don't love it when some of my students make excuses about why they didn't do their homework (AGAIN!), but I do love it when their eyes light up about a story that we're reading in class.
I don't love my morning commute on the train because of rush hour, the fact that trains are often late, and the people who insist on cramming themselves into the train even when it's OBVIOUS that it's already too full and then yell at everyone to move back (which prompts me to yell, "MOVE BACK? HOW ABOUT YOU MOVE AWAY, TO THE SUBURBS?"). But I do love the Chicago-style pizza (Giordano's is the best!), sitting by the lake when it's warm out and watching the water move, and wearing the same black down coat (and three layers of clothing underneath) that everyone else wears during the winter, which makes me feel like a true Chicagoan.
Those kinds of love are different from romantic love, which makes romantic love all that much more difficult to describe. But I don't want to wait to finish my manuscript until after I fall in love,
because what if that doesn't happen until after Perez Hilton becomes President?
So I'm going to keep trying to write about it. And I suppose I will keep learning more about cooking, too. It would be a lot easier to just buy a cookbook instead of a fire extinguisher.
What about you? Do you think it's possible to write a love story even if you've never been in love? Do you "write what you know", or do you do research for your stories?
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