One of the most common pieces of advice for budding writers is to “write what you know.” But what does that actually mean? Does it mean to write about events that have happened in your life? Does it mean that you should only write about subjects which you know? Does it maybe mean that you should gather inspiration from aspects of your life, be that feelings or relationships or experiences? In my experience, “write what you know” can encompass any and all of these.
You can write about your own life, in the form of a memoir or travel journals or other such creative nonfiction. By doing so, you share your experiences with others, help people going through similar trials and tribulations to what you’ve gone through. This sort of writing is also a way to memorialize your life, to be remembered and leave a legacy for future generations.
Another way to write what you know is to write about subjects you know well. For example, a truck driver writing stories about life on the road, a retired detective writing mysteries, or a historian writing historical fiction. And if you don’t know the subject, then know what you write: do research, learn about what is involved in your story. If you do this, your story will be that much more believable, and you won’t have someone who does know the subject telling you what you got wrong.
Sometimes you can go a little farther, and rather than writing directly about what you’ve experienced or centering your writing around a knowledge base, there will be some experience or feeling, some event, anything that catches your imagination, and it will be a seed that turns into a story later down the road. Oftentimes, the story that results will barely resemble the event that inspired it, but the roots can be traced back to it, back to something you know.
No matter how you “write what you know,” in the end what matters is that you’re writing.
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This post appeared first in the Writers Alliance of Gainesville blog;
reprinted here with permission.