I’ve heard a lot of advice as a writer, some very good, some not so good. One piece of advice that I’ve had ringing in my ears over the years is to “write what you know.”
I’ve written a couple of novels now, neither of which do I have any knowledge about. I am not an Air Force Pilot nor am I married to one. Neither am a I vampire, nor have I ever practiced sorcery or witchcraft, nor have I traveled through time or descended the stairs and entered the gates into Hell (though sometimes life certainly feels that way!)
To an outsider’s perspective, I suppose they could look at my 33 years of life and say, “Well, that means she should write about being a preacher’s daughter, surviving brain cancer, and having epilepsy, battling thyroid disease, being a wife to her long-standing high school sweetheart (whom she married at only 18 years of age), a daughter and sister, and also being a stay-at-home mom of four school age kids…” The list could continue, but I’ll leave it to those basic things. If I stayed hard and true to the “write what you know rules” the way people traditionally think they should be followed, my books would either consist of a lot of “self-help” topics and a whole lot of medical issues that I could give a lot of advice about, or they would be mostly romances where the heroine always has some sort of mysterious illness and her prince charming comes to save the day. Fortunately, I don’t think that a writer has to look at his/her life and “write what we know” to that extreme in order to be a great author.
I think the person who invented the so-called “write what you know” rule probably meant it more like this…
Has your heart been hurt? Yes? Write about it.
Have you ever felt lost or afraid? I think most of us have. We can write about it.
Do you feel pain and sadness? Who doesn’t?! You can definitely write about that! Everyone needs comfort in their storms.
Are you happy? Certainly write about that!
Is the sun shining so brightly today that it’s blinding you? Write about that too. I want to read about happiness the most!
Take a walk through the woods and listen to the birds, hear them chirp, and listen to the leaves as they rustle in the breeze, then write about it.
Writing what we know doesn’t mean if you’re a doctor you have to write about medicine or if you’re a lawyer you have to write about law; it means that if you’re feeling loved, you write about love or if you’re feeling pain, you write about pain.
I can know how to love. I can know how to taste sweetness of the strawberries in summertime. I can know how to smell the aroma of the cool fall breeze as it blows through my window. I can know how to care for an infant and raise him to be a man. I can know so many things, but what writers truly need to know is how to feel. Without feeling, no writer will ever make an impression on anyone’s soul. In every good book I’ve ever read, what made the difference was I felt the author’s experience.
We should write about our emotions and our experiences, not necessarily in truth, but about how they make us feel.
In my life, I’ve experienced a lot of fear and sadness. When I was 14, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and thought I was going to die. Therefore, I know fear and sadness and my novels often include the themes of fear and sadness. I write about that.
I met the love of my life at only 14 years old and he has been loving and faithful to me for 19 years. Therefore, I know of love and I often include a theme of a passionate romance in my novels. My readers can feel the love just oozing out of my novels because of this.
When we write what we know, all we are really doing is writing with our hearts. I really think the better phrase should be, “Write with your emotions and you’ll write what you know.”
” There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway
Meg Sechrest is an author of romantic novels for adults and young adults. She loves to create worlds that will inspire others to use their imagination and drive a love for books.
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