About a month ago, I decided that I wanted to explore various bits of well-known writing advice and try and articulate what each one means to me.
I’ll note now, and I should have noted this in the beginning, that nothing in here is anything that I’d call a “Rule.” If you find that this works for you, that’s ok. If not, that’s ok too.
This week, I’m looking at a common piece of advice which, out of all of the scattered bits of advice out there, I am most likely to disregard:
“Write What You Know.”
Why do I cast this piece of writerly wisdom aside so often? Well, for starters, I can’t take it literally. If I was restricting myself to “Write what I know,” well… there goes Faster than Light travel, far away planets, alien races, Weird Westerns, and Magic in all its forms.
In short, everything that I enjoy both writing about and reading about would vanish.
So here’s my take on it:
“Write what you Know” should be internal and used to more fully develop your characters.
Here’s what I mean:
Your characters have feelings. You, yourself, have had feelings. See the correlation? Why, I’m willing to bet that you have, in fact, had a staggeringly wide array of feelings. I’m also willing to bet that there are certain subjects about which you have real, passionate responses to (Both positive and negative). There are things you want. things that drive you to do what you do.
“Write what you Know” suggests that you can draw upon those feelings – even if there isn’t a one-to-one correlation – to infuse your writing with a bit of realism.
You’ve been happy, sad, angry, in love, excited (in all the possible applications of that word), disappointed, indecisive, driven with purpose, etc. You’ve suffered defeat and been victorious. Your memories of those feelings are there for you to mine–to remember what they were like to guide you through a character’s reaction to something going on in their life.
Think back to your first kiss. Were you Nervous? Maybe a little trembly? Or did it come out of the blue – a complete surprise – and you couldn’t put words together for a second or two?
That’s the good stuff you’re mining. You know how you felt at those times. You can show your reader how your characters feel too.
Personally, I’ve never flown a starship through an asteroid field, but I have dodged my car out of the way of something in the road, and I can use my memory of such a close call to describe feelings that just might put you on the bridge of that ship as it skims past something a little more hazardous than a simple fender bender.
“Write what you Know” also urges you to do your research. It doesn’t suggest that you become an expert in theoretical physics, or medicine, or any number of complicated fields that you’ve got little to no knowledge of.
What it does suggest is that you do your due diligence. The devil is in the details and you’ll catch hell if your details aren’t spot on.
Thanks for reading.
Be safe out there. Be Excellent to Each other.
I’ll see you on Thursday.
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