Each and every one of us on here is a writer of one sort or another. Some of us cover a wide area while others stick to a small corner. I tend to write short pieces of fiction. The genres I cover tend to be varied, however. I do have other things within my pages, though most are stories and visions whirling through my head. However, there is one thing which each of us has been told from an early age.
“Write What You Know”
This is a piece of advice which has thrown many of us for a loop over the years. For those who write fantasy or delve into the paranormal, ‘what we know’ simply does not exist in this world of ours. So how can we write about it? For those who write about situations they’ve never been in and portrayed it accurately, the question arises on how they are able to write about something they have not felt or heard themselves. For those who write stories of magic and elves, of dragons breathing fire and silvery wings, the truth remains: ‘write what you know’ is a very misleading piece of advice.
So what does ‘Write What You Know’ mean?
This is not something which can be explained in simple terms. Writing is, without any doubt, a solitary profession. It is not something that can be done, in usual circumstances, with multiple people. Our ideas are near impossible to transfer from one person to the next because each person will read something and gain a different insight from the words given. It is possible to write with another person but that is something that will be discussed at a later time.
So how does one go about the path set before them? How does one ‘write about what they know’ when they seek to express something they know little, or nothing, about? In the end, the answer can be boiled down to one thing: experience. A few of you might be staring at the screen, brows furrowed in confusion. I get it.
I just said writing about something you have no experience in is difficult. How can you write about something you haven’t gone through? The answer to that question is one some of you might gawk at – research. Outside of that, every writer has one solemn duty that cannot be cast aside. If we are writing about a certain type of person, if we have the ability to do so…we should try and experience their lives for ourselves.
No, I am not saying you should put yourselves in dangerous situations.
On a mental level, each of us has the ability to put ourselves in our character’s shoes. We can pause for a moment and say to ourselves “what will he/she do/say in this situation?” In other ways, we can research the conditions a character might be living in. We have the internet at our fingertips and that power can be used to find first-hand stories from other people who have gone through such things.
If you’re writing about nature, or someone attuned to nature, then you should go outside barefoot and let your feet buried in the soil. Close your eyes and focus on how it feels to have the dirt oozing between your feet after a rain shower. Feel the hot wind caress your skin on a clear, dry day. Take some time to step outside during a storm and feel the power in the wind, smell the rain and hear the rumbling cry of thunder.
The best way to enrich a piece of writing is by being able to expose yourselves to as many situations possible. Sometimes you’ll have to push your comfort zone. Someone who tends to go to parties should spend an afternoon in their home, TV off. Listen to the quiet hum of the world. Read a book. Let your mind wander.
For those who are more reclusive, go out someplace public and feel the power that flows in an environment filled with motion and bodies. Get out on a dance floor and sway to the beat of the bass. Get on the stage and sing a song. Talk to a random stranger. Grab a soda if you refuse to drink, sit at a table and watch the crowd. See how people react, see how each differs. If you’re really creative, compose an inner narrative about the people around you. Think of stories about why they’re there. Write them down.
Go to the parks, to the rivers, to graveyards and anywhere your feet can carry you.
Experience the world. These experiences are things you can add to your writing.
And your writing will grow, fueled by the sensations you experienced.
To My Readers
Writing is a solitary art, yes, but being able to communicate is so very vital. For those of you who are willing to put in your own thoughts, I invite you to share them. How do you write about ‘what you know’ and how do you learn such things? What tips would you give someone if they asked you how you know what to write about?
I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!