Write What You Know…

I’ve been following a lot of writing coaches, editors and authors via social media and blogs lately, and I’ve learned a TON about writing. The things to avoid, to embrace and habits to form to become a better writer have really impacted me. It also scares me.

When I sit down to write now, I’m so caught up in what not to do, that I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write. 😛 Even so, I have to admit that there’s a notable improvement, though it still isn’t flawless. I’ll keep working at it. There’s no such thing as a perfect writer, but we can aspire.

One of the most freely floating bits of advice is to write what you know and that’s what I want to talk about today.

I’m in no way a writing coach. I’m still learning a little about the craft every day. I’ve had no formal training in writing, which is why I want to learn as much as I can.

But this advice to ‘write what you know’? It kind of annoys me. If I were to follow that advice, I’d be severely limited as a writer.

Let’s take this advice literally and only work with knowledge, not emotions. Let me break it down for you.

The fields I know the best are generally art and art-related, as those are the fields I studied. I also know a lot about things like the internet, social media, blogging and vlogging, because I work with those for a living. I do my best to keep up with internet-trends, because I have to know when I need to change with times, and the statistical aspect of what I do is important to me. So, I try to keep an eye on which referring sites bring people to my blog, or which posts I write are received the best, for example, so that I know what my subscriber demographic looks like and appreciates.

Does anybody have all the answers to child rearing? No, but I know a little about my kid in our circumstances. 🙂 I know some things from what I’ve learned to survive, like cooking and doing the laundry. You know, how to adult. I know some things from experience, some things because they interest me and I have second hand knowledge in the fields my family and friends work in. So, I have a surface understanding of things like Siebel development, new technology and gaming from my husband, new toys, kids trends and child development from my daughter and what’s going on in the South African schooling system from my mother and mother in law, as examples. I went to school too, so I can remember some of what I learned there.

Obviously, this is oversimplified, but you get the general idea.

If I were to limit what I write to only those fields, the books might be good, but they’d always be the same. Different characters with the same general theme. It’s boring.

Here’s the thing about the modern day; we have the internet. Learning something new is a few keystrokes away. ‘Writing what we know’ doesn’t need to apply any more, because ‘what we know’ can expand so easily. I’m personally all for knowledge. I like to learn something every day, even if it’s something small.

At the moment, I’m working on The Physician’s Apprentice. I mean, the title makes it clear that the book has a medical element. I know nothing about being a doctor or surgeon, but I’ve been able to include aspects of that to my novel because of the internet and knowledge from people who work in the field. I’ve learned a lot from them and their input enriches the story that I’m trying to tell.

If you were to look at my browser history, you’d see a ton of strange things. I bet you’d think I’m some kind of weirdo. Well… 😀 I’ve researched everything from the British peerage system and occupational surnames, to how long a corpse takes to decompose and methods of execution used in ye olde times (YUK!!!).

The point? If you want to write it, learn about it.

If we were to touch on emotional knowledge, it becomes more complicated.

As a human being, I do have a lot of emotional knowledge. I mean, I’ve felt pain, happiness, love, loss, empathy and so on. If you’ve lived, you’ve felt, and you have a ton of knowledge about feelings.

The problem (in my opinion) with writing what you know about feelings, is that it’s limited to what you know. Everybody experiences things in different ways. My hubs always says that every story has three sides, his side, her side and the truth. It really does work that way, because what each person perceives influences what they take away from it. Even if it isn’t the factual truth, it’s still their truth.

I’m an extremely emotion-driven person, while my husband isn’t. That does not in the least diminish what he feels, it just means that he has better control over his feelings and how he’ll allow that to impact his life. Myself, on the other hand, will allow what I feel to dictate my decisions, actions and reactions.

Because we all feel differently, we have to write characters that feel differently to how we feel. I can’t have only characters who are driven by their emotions like I am.

It goes further than that, though. There are some things that I haven’t had to deal with personally, which means there are some things I haven’t felt. I’ve never had a life-threatening illness, for example. My grandpa had cancer, so I did experience the emotions linked to that second hand, but I’ve never had the news broken to me that I was going to die. I’ve never had to fight an addiction and I don’t know what withdrawal feels like. I don’t know what it feels like to win the lottery, to find out you’re expecting multiples, or what it’s like to be an only child.

See what I mean? Writing what I know would limit my characters and their stories.

The point? Again, if you want to write it, learn about it. Talk to different people and understand their emotional state and how it influences them.

At the end of this post, I’m still not a writing coach or an expert in the field. Reading through everything I’ve just typed here, I guess ‘write what you know’ has taught me more about writing than any other advice so far. Because if what I know is what will make my work more authentic and relatable, I reckon I need to know more.

Have a good one,

Yolandie