There’s an old saying in writing:

“Write what you know.”

First of all, I think that saying is bullshit. No one really knows anything. But beneath the bullshit, there’s a kernel of truth. I don’t think writers should think about all the knowledge they’ve collected over their years of life on this earth then figure out how to cram that into a story. Do some fucking research, and feel free to write about what you don’t know if you want. But, I will say there’s merit in writing where you know. At least for me.

When I first started writing, I decided the place I grew up in was too boring. When I started writing screenplays, I really decided it was boring. Hollywood would never want to set foot in my dusty, desert backyard. So, I tried to write stories that took place in major cities. I tried to do what it seemed everyone else on the planet did — shove a character in a big ass city and make it up as you go.

Turns out, that led to bad stories. It wasn’t until I started working on my MFA that I decided to focus on home. Not necessarily on the people of home, but the landscape. The environment charges the air and makes the people do what they do.

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. The Sonoran Desert. Cormac McCarthy made great use of the desert in his work, but it’s still relatively uncharted in the literary world. If you don’t believe me, go find me a great novel set in Arizona. The Great Arizona Novel does not exist.

I’m not likely to be the one to write that novel, but I will write as many stories as I can in the desert. With the brutal heat, barren landscape, and destructive monsoons every summer, the setting is beautiful. It’s conducive to great stories.

I thought I might have been crazy about all of this because there are authors, successful authors, who will not write anything set in the place they’re from. Phillipp Meyer comes to mind. But, I tried again to write a story set somewhere else.

It was shit.

I went back and started that story over, the plot itself not changing much, and I set it in the desert. Everything changed. I felt energized. I felt like the story suddenly made sense.

So, give it a shot. You’re from some town in the sticks, don’t worry. Write a story set there. Use real streets if you have to. Set the entire thing in that old diner you ate at when you were a kid. Whatever. Just give it a shot, see if it helps. It certainly helped me.

via Justin Hunter