Write what you know

There are billions of people on this planet and each one is experiencing something completely different from the next.  Each person’s perspective is vibrant and even if two peas in a pod retell the same story, there will be differentiations.  Everyone’s experiences are different and so is the perception of information.

It’s crucial for writers to understand that their sets of experiences or hardships are actually gold nuggets in disguise. During difficulties, certain emotions are triggered, creating different reactions every single time. Our experiences are very valuable because not only do you have facts for a good story, but you now also have emotions that help heighten the story to a whole new level.

Sometimes writers try to master writing on a completely unknown subject. They do all the research and collect all the facts but the missing component becomes the emotion that makes a character human.

Since each writer has a unique story and direct knowledge of certain subjects, this puts some writers at a unique advantage over people who would have to go out of their way to research that same subject.

But, this isn’t to say that just because the writer hasn’t had direct personal first-hand experience with a certain topic, he/she shouldn’t write about it at all. Or, that just because they have had a direct experience about another topic that that should be the only thing they should write about.

One of the ways writers can write effectively from their own experiences is to journal about the event and the emotion that came with it. It’s a great reminder of the event and the feeling that came with it. Since we cannot possibly remember the details of how we felt a long time ago, this is a convenient way of retracing the steps for later.

Once you have written down the event, you can now meditate on all aspects of that emotion. If a character were to experience this same emotion, what would the following action be? Or what lead the character to make that decision (based on something you would have done) in the first place? There are some universal topics that all humans experience and the emotions that correspond. So it’s only fitting to write about them from your own unique perspective.

It’s so easy to get discouraged when we go through difficulties and focus entirely on the unfairness of a situation.  But if we put on our writers’ hat for just a moment, we will see just how valuable that situation becomes. All of the information is right there in front of you; all you have to do is write it down!

My ex seemed an obvious and natural choice.  The book took place in an upstate New York steel town that was dying a slow death as a result of outsourcing and globalization, a town that looked a lot like the one my parents both grew up in, one I’d spent a lot of time working in and visiting, one I’d heard hundreds of stories about.  Objectively speaking, the setting was compelling, the characters interesting; there was a lot of potential conflict. As I wrote pages I saw photographs that were respectable, dialogue that worked, description I admired. I didn’t hate what I was writing. But whenever I sat down in front of the computer screen, I felt as if I were observing the story from atop the Empire State Building.  I didn’t even feel bored. I simply felt detached. For me writing has always been about learning, and fundamental to learning is curiosity. Curiosity requires knowing less, not more. It requires an impassioned, sometimes obsessive interest, an eagerness for investigation with no guarantee of clear-cut answers. But I had no questions for my ex, nothing I wanted answered, unearthed. I knew everything I wanted and needed to know about that town, those people.  I wrote dutifully and like an expert, coldly and mechanically regurgitating information I had stored up inside but had no investment in.

Myka, Lenore. “Write What You Know.” Poets & Writers, Sept/Oct 2018, p. 42.

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