I’ve gotten myself into such a state with my novel that the whole process has stalled in a spectacular way. Here’s whats happening: The character I thought was the main character turns out to be a sidekick to the character I thought was the supporting role. This latter character’s voice is the loudest of all the characters, his story is the one that motivates me to write the novel. Do I scrap my outline and go with the squeaky wheel? How important is getting it done compared with getting it right? Is this what they mean when they say write what you know?
Mark Twain said “write what you know”. If this advice was ever meant to be taken literally he wouldn’t have written A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or Letters from Earth; Douglas Adams wouldn’t have written The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Stephen King would never have received his handsome advances from his publisher, Umberto Eco coudn’t have delved into 14th century Italy, and Star Wars could never have been as popular as it is across the generations. Writing what you know means writing with insight. Your greatest asset as a writer is one you share with most other humans: the ability to empathise. Combined with an innate love of story-telling you can transpose your own experiences and those of others onto a single character or situation. For example, I’ve never lived the life of a drifter, but I’ve been without a safe place, I’ve been cold, I’ve been hungry, lonely too. I’ve even known drifters; I listened and watched and used my imagination. Writing is about discovery – of humanity, life, the universe and most especially yourself. We explore so we can know the world better. We should write for the same reason. Here’s a few things to remember about writing what you know:
- You know more than you think you do
- Write what you’re comfortable writing
- Use your powers of observation
- If you don’t know, ask, interview, research
- Write to discover