Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Write What You Know!"

I think nearly every writing class I've ever taken always included, somewhere, the admonishment to "write what I know." When I was a junior in college, I was somewhat confused by this because I kept thinking, well, what do I know? I'd never experienced war or famine. I had a pretty normal childhood with an intact family (no divorce, no abuse, no drama) and I had pretty normal friends as well. So did that mean I needed to write about boring? And did that mean that all the murder mystery writers I read knew about killing someone???

Since college, I have had the chance to experience all manner of things, some good, and some not very, but I suppose in the right hands, a lot of those experiences could contribute to fine stories. The problem, if it is a problem, is that I'm still writing about things that aren't necessarily what I know.  I've never set a story around a crisis hotline, even though I answered phones for one for nearly two years. I've had martial arts instruction for quite a few years, but nothing of the sort has ever entered into one of my books. I finished a program in sign language interpreting and have yet to include anything about interpreting or Deaf culture in a story. And I wonder, why is that?

Maybe writing about things I know meant things a little closer to home: emotional truths, fears, anxieties, personal little joys? I look back on some of my work and think that I may not have included martial arts, but I sure covered disappointing my parents. I have never used anything from my years of answering phone calls from runaways, potential suicides, and troubled souls addicted to all manner of substances, but I sure as heck wrote quite a lot about self-acceptance. And while I may never include Deaf culture in my work -leaving that particular topic in the hands of experts- I have certainly not shied away from writing about life in a haunted house.

I guess I am writing what I know, just not everything I know. Maybe if I keep writing, eventually I will get around to the other things I understand, just from having walked around this planet for all these years. And then again, maybe there will always be the things I know but choose not to share, even in something as intimate and soul-baring as a work of fiction.


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  2. Very good points, Ophelia. I guess it's all in how we interpret "Write the things you know." Maybe being that shy girl in school or the dreamer is a story about how she overcomes her lack of faith in herself o her dreams take her away on a fantasy adventure. I enjoy writing about things I don't know because that usually means research and I discover so much interesting stuff doing the research. Nice article.