Where I write

Where I write

March 14, 2013

Write What you Know

Writers are often told write what you know, and this includes place. Some writers break this rule, but I find myself more comfortable sticking to writing about places I understand. I once wrote a story that got published about a woman riding a bus in Mexico, something I've never done, and while I did get to use my imagination, I always felt as if I might have missed some important details that would have made that short story richer. I put a rooster on the bus. I don't know if roosters can really ride buses in Mexico.

I thought of this understanding of place because, due to the blessings of rain, the desert is blooming in Arizona this year unlike previous years. Last year I don't think I saw one flower. If you don't live here, or visit often, you might not realize how special this is to see grass in the desert. Where I grew up in Illinois, grass was no big deal. Actually, it was sorta a pain in the butt to have to mow.  In the desert, grass is amazing. Add the yellow and purple flowers, and you'll find photographers with expensive looking cameras out there right now capturing the beauty you might see on a calendar next year.

Within a few weeks, this area of where I hike will look far less colorful. The flowers will whither in the mean (sometimes it feels as if it is downright mean), hot sun and grass will die, and the desert will return to looking dry as a bone. Next year there may be less flowers, if any. Maybe because the desert blooms for such a short period of time, and often times with less abundance as this year, the flowers this March are all that much more special. Sorta like when get a nice fat tax return one year, and nothing the next.

 I didn't know deserts even had flowers when I was growing up in Illinois.
This was how I spent my childhood winters. So, as a writer, I can write about blizzards and snow drifts with some authority. I truly know how it feels to get all bundled up in rubbery snow pants and heavy wool coat to stand at a bus stop, my feet and fingers so cold you feel as if they might snap off. I also remember how much I loved my sled, and sliding down hills of white, and how cozy a house could feel with snow falling outside. I know it because I lived it and you don't forget how nature affects your life. As a writer, I can draw from my past and feel as if I've got the details right.
Here are the aspen trees of Colorado.  I can easily write about fall in Colorado, too, and how the aspen trees signal arrival of winter. I didn't always like knowing winter was coming, but who couldn't be in awe of such beauty?

When I write I set my stories usually in places I have lived. I've never lived in Mississippi, so you won't find a story of mine set there. I've visited New York City, but I don't feel qualified to write about the Big Apple. Even if I did have the opportunity to travel more, I'm not sure I'd write about a place I didn't feel as if I truly knew. Nothing like living with a person to help you understand them, for good and bad, and the same with a place.
Finally, I just had to add this photo. These little purple flowers in the desert somehow find a way to grow in the rocky, sandy, soil. They die and they return. My friend Julie says their seeds don't get blown or washed away because they are protected by the rock. That they can grow in such a hot, unforgiving place, even for just a week or two, is a miracle dressed in purple. 


Rita A. said...

Great photos. The movies always show roosters, or at least chickens, on the buses in Mexico and points south. I do think it's possible to put what you know into another setting. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any science fiction or fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures! :-) I always find myself oscillating between writing what I know and expanding to what I don't know. I suppose the muse decides where we take our pen. :-)

SunsetCindi said...

Those purple flowers remind me of the human spirit, always surprising at how it can flourish no matter the conditions it has to survive in. How wonderful to hike these gorgeous mountains we have here. I never realized the desert could be so beautiful either till I moved here. I thought it was only mounds of sand like you see in the movies with camels looking for water. Thank goodness it's not! Enjoy!