Fear in Writing: Write Around the World: Clarissa Draper on London/Mexico

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Write Around the World: Clarissa Draper on London/Mexico

Today, writer/blogger Clarissa Draper takes us to England via Mexico (oh, yeah, and she's Canadian!).  If you've been by her blog, Listen to the Voices, you'll know that she not only blogs about writing techniques, but is also in the midst of a series on her new Kindle.  And what writer doesn't need to be in-the-know about those!  Check her out, read some of her chapter critiques, but first, enjoy this post...

Thank you, Michele, for asking me to do this post - what an honor!

Ever since I was about twelve, I've had a love affair with England. So when I took up writing, of course I wanted to write about the place I loved. My first book was a love story in the style of Jane Austen (I never did finish that story...) and so not only did I have to write about a foreign country, I had to write about a foreign time.

Now, they say you should only write what you know and to some extent I believe it, so what was I to do? Write about something I was passionate about or write about something I knew. The choice was easy: I had to write with my heart. At times, I feel incompetent, but I console myself by reading the books of Elizabeth George and Deborah Crombie who've done the same thing.

Mexico, near Clarissa's home
 So how can a Canadian living in Mexico write about England? How can we write about places where we haven't lived for years and year? Or times and eras we haven't experienced?

Here are three things that have helped me:

1) Research - we have the world wide web at our fingertips. Anything you ever wanted to know about anything, you can find on Google. Use it. Take nothing for granted. When you edit your work, make sure you have your facts straight.

2) Immerse yourself in the culture - when writing about a certain place or time, I listen to only that culture's music, radio stations, TV shows, and books. The last two are especially important - learn the speak, the idioms, the common terms. Write them down. Use them.

3) I think this is most important - great critique buddies. When I'm in my editing phase, I work with 2-4 different British writers. We go over my chapters together and when they read something that they think wouldn't be said or done, I make changes. I love them. They catch all my trouser/pant mistakes.

So write what you believe in. Write from your heart. Write from the 1600s. Just make sure you get your facts straight afterward.
Thank you, Clarissa!  Those last words, especially, are ones to write by.  Again, read more from Clarissa at Listen to the Voices.  Tomorrow: the Writer from Brazil, Leighton Gage.


  1. oh, Clarissa, judging from that pic it seems you live in heaven :))))But I did expect a picture of Clarissa with a Mexican hat to illustrate this post :P

  2. I especially believe when a writer truly loves the place and time they are writing about, it comes through in their work. Clarissa, enjoyed your post.

    Michele, thanks for hosting Clarissa so we can learn more about her and her writing.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. As always, Clarissa, good advice. I've found period newspapers helpful in getting the flavor of a time and place.

  4. Clarissa, I have seen your other blog, the one on London cityscapes, and one thing is for sure. You have completely immersed yourself in the culture of the city.

    Great post.

  5. Excellent post, Clarissa. I write contemporary, but getting the setting correct is half the battle.

    Michele, thanks for hosting Clarissa.

  6. You are completely right: research should be the number one thing on the list, even when you think you know everything about your setting. I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned about my backyard in Turkey. Great post!

  7. Michele - Thanks for hosting Clarissa.

    Clarissa - Thanks for sharing what has helped you to write about a place you love, whether or not you've been there. I agree 100% about going with what inspires you, too. And if research helps make it more authentic, so be it. And hey, cultural immersion can be fun :-). The most important thing, in my opinion, is to go with your gut and your heart and write what inspires you. Doesn't matter if you've never lived there...

  8. Thanks for hosting the fab Clarissa Draper!!!

    I thoroughly agree about writing from the heart with passion but to also get your research right!! :-)

    Take care

  9. Thanks for hosting Clarissa! This was a great post, and I agree that research, crit partners, and thinking about the culture helps!

  10. Great interview, ladies. And yay for Canadians! :)

    Clarissa's straightforward writing advice is invaluable -- and I love that she's so willing to share.

  11. Dezmond is right, that is a heavenly location!

    Research is vital for anything from magazine articles to books. Heck, even blogs! :) I also think that hitting the library is important when doing research. Of course, if you're writing about a foreign country or city and can go there, that's the best method!

  12. DEZMOND, I don't even own a sombrero! But, yes, I do love my mountains.

    Mason, thanks. I'm happy to tell you more about myself.

    jrlindermuth, thank you. Newspapers are great places to look for information.

    Rayna, yes. I've had to take down the site because I've run out of time but I do love the photos.

    Carol, thanks. And Michele was so nice to ask me to post.

    Carolyn, backyard in Turkey!? Wow, I would love to visit that country!

    Margot, you're really great and have always been so supportive. THank you.

    Old Kitty, it takes both, for sure.

    The Golden Eagle, thank you!

    Talli, I love sharing! Yes, yay for Canadians!

    notesfromnadir, Mexico is beautiful when you're not in danger! Thank you for your comment!


  13. Michele, thanks for hosting Clarissa.

    Clarissa -- great advice. I'll never forget the time I first heard "Write what you know" many many years ago. Growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I thought my career was over before it even started. But it's just like you said, you may not know certain things when you start a book, but there are means/methods to learn anything.

    I'm thankful to be a writer in this day and age where information is availbale at my fingertips.

  14. Excellent tips. Need to find someone from Cassa for my next book.

  15. Great post. The wealth of information available for writers today is a definite blessing (although I suppose by the same token our readers are so more likely to notice inaccuracies so the need for meticulous research has also increased).

    I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of writing about what you believe in and writing from the heart.

  16. ha ha i feel you on the trouser/pants issue i have been told that under no condition except sarcasm will an American under 75 say trousers, the best I will get is slacks.
    I love that picture by the way

  17. I'm going to England for four days on Saturday, to see two or three soccer games. Anything you want me to research for you, Clarissa ?

    Cold As Heaven

  18. When you love something you find out about it. You read about it. You learn it and soon you begin to know it. ve if you write locally you have to learn new things.Great post.

  19. Great advice - the crit buddies one is perfect!

  20. These are really great tips. I guess I have some research to do! Great post.

  21. Very good advice. And #3 is critical. I could never write about another country and culture without running it by someone who knows that part of the world.

  22. You've offered some great suggestions. I will often have music pertaining to whatever I'm writing about playing in the background. Thank goodness for the internet--such a great tool even though it's not always totally reliable.

    Tossing It Out

  23. Clarissa-great advise. I think the knowledgeable critique buddies is HUGE (not that you probably know any time travelers... but a few who have read a lot about the era and maybe have some historical expertise.)--I am editing a book that in the next one will go to Romania, and I have leaned heavily on a friend who lived there for a few years and have identified a few new friends who I will ask to read it to make sure I haven't mangled it too badly. (the PLOT needed to be behind the iron curtain before the wall fell, so it just was never going to be me with the experience)

  24. Nice post--great tips! :D

  25. thanks for a lot of really good stuff for writing about some place you dont really know lots about. for sure the net is a really good place to look for stuff. you always have really good advice for being a better writer.
    ...hugs from lenny

  26. Great advice on all three counts! I find that I can't argue when my imagination tells me a story is set in a specific locality. Usually is just means more research about the area--and hopefully a few trips there. :o)

    Thanks for sharing, Clarissa! And thanks for hosting, Michele!