Write what you know
It’s what every writer has been told in every class they’ve ever taken. For a long time, I took it literally and despaired. Because I loved all things genre. I loved science fiction–“hard” or “soft”, whatever that means–fantasy, horror, mystery… You name it, I loved it. But how could I write it when I was only allowed to write what I knew?
I didn’t know enough about science to do science fiction, I thought. I certainly didn’t know enough about crime-solving to do mysteries. But, oh how I wanted to. I kept thinking of stories, kept writing stories, that had fantastic elements. Stories my teachers frowned upon in school, but my friends loved. Stories that came to me down a dream-pipe, completely without my assistance. When something beautiful shows up, just like that, dressed and ready to go, how do you ignore it?
Then I learned the truth. That the ‘what you know’ meant what you knew as a human being too. So stories weren’t all about the academic or procedural research. They were about translating the human experience. Your human experience. Because yours was the only one you were an expert on.
I should not have taken so long to figure this out–after all, if that rule was literal, how could Ray Bradbury write the Martian Chronicles, or Carl Sagan write Contact–but it was a daunting thing, all the same. Now I not only had the responsibility of credibility that research catered to–I had to bare myself in public in certain ways. I had to write what I knew, and in doing so, tell the whole world a little about myself. I don’t remember who said it, but they were right when they said a writer is someone who appears in public with their pants down.
It’s not an easy thing to put down your thoughts, hopes, dreams, nightmares so others can share them. There’s always that risk that you’ll be rejected. Or laughed at. Or worse, that no-one will care. But for everyone who has the courage to write what they know, they take a chance that somewhere, someone will find a kindred moment. A shared experience. Somewhere out there, a bond will form between writer and reader, between two people who have never met. And it will be a deep and lasting friendship.
So to those of you who have had the courage to risk yourselves in the telling of your stories–take a bow. It doesn’t matter if you get paid to do this. You know what this really means, this writing what you know. You deserve to celebrate yourselves a little.
And to those who haven’t had the courage to try yet. Well..what are you waiting for? Write what you know.
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