If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase write what you know and if you’re new to writing, then this post just might save your sanity.
Write what you know.
It’s one of the most misunderstood pieces of writing advice I’ve ever come across, so what do you do about it?
Do you listen and hang on every word. Every snippet of so-called writing advice that the World Wide Web is inundated with… not to mention every book dedicated to writing. Or do you pick and choose? Using only the advice you think it’s relevant and useful.
Write what you know. Really? But do I have to?
I know, I know. I can hear you thinking: I hardly know anything, or: my experience is limited, or even: I haven’t been anywhere exciting yet.
None of that matters, and you know why? Because I can guarantee you that your life experience is entirely different from any other writer out there. It’s as unique as you are, and that’s what will shine through no matter what you write.
Funny story actually, but a couple of years ago, I was told by an author that I respect, to stick to writing what I know. It was after a conversation led me to share the setting of the book that I was working on at the time. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t set in Australia… and it definitely wasn’t set in Perth.
I found myself sitting there, coffee in hand, mulling over what she said and panicking and I thought to myself: I’ll never get to go anywhere as charming as Ireland in my lifetime.
And then it dawned on me… it’s not the setting of the story I should be focusing on, but the experiences my characters go through. It’s the emotions that course through them whenever they feel something so intensely… whether it be joy or sadness. If you as a writer know those emotions inside out, if you experience it as if it were you who was going through it, and not some character you made up, then there’s no doubt in my mind the reader will feel it too.
2 thoughts on “Write What You Know”
This post is so true. I have always thought that to ‘write what you know’ you need to have lived or visited a place or experienced life in a specific era but you rightly point out that it is the character experiences which bring the substance to the story, not only the setting which, as we all know, can easily be researched.
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Yes, research is the key. I felt the same way for a long time. It took me hearing it from an author I respected for me to figure out what the writing advice really meant.