Have you ever heard that saying write what you know? Well of course you have. Every person that has ever thought or dreamed about becoming a writer has heard it once or twice. A teacher or professor has said this phrase as you turned in your paper. Write what you know. But that lingering question is stuck in your mind. The one that asks, how do you write what you know if it has never been taught or experienced?
The one problem that I always had with this phrase: write what you know, was that I never really got a crash course on how to do it or where to start. It is as though if you want to be a writer, the writer is automatically supposed to know how to do it.
I always asked myself these questions in my mind what do I know about that is worthy enough of telling a story? What have I experienced? But then I tell myself, well, I am trying to write fiction not a non-fictional account of something that I did or experienced. Not an autobiography.
Wouldn’t the phrase write what you know just completely fall on death ears then if that was the case. Yup it would. Most defiantly.
For example, I write in the fantasy genre. Stories about werewolves and all the things that go bump in the night. But do I know anything about what a werewolf really is? Have I seen a werewolf in real life? Heck no. But I wish I did. Because that would be so cool. No. It really would, and wouldn’t it be some experience to write about? Of course, it would.
But how do you write about something that you haven’t experienced? Something that is not real? Something that doesn’t exist? Something you completely know nothing about?
Well, it is hard to answer for most. But over the years I have come to the conclusion, in my opinion that the phrase, ‘write what you know,’ doesn’t actually means write what you know. And since I don’t like to write autobiographies, I take my cue from the great writers of the past.
Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, J. R. R Tolkien, C. S Lewis, H. G. Wells. Edgar Allen Poe to name a few. Yeah, yeah, I know I named only writers from the last hundred years or so and there are more writers of course. But these are my favorite few.
And they all had something in common. They didn’t all write what they knew. All of their stories were all fictional. Made up. Fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Unless all of their stories was an account of their real life. Which I honestly don’t think there was an actual invasion or time travel expedition, an encounter with a vampiric count Dracula that roamed the Carpathian landscape, or a parallel, time warped, black hole journey into Middle Earth or Narnia. (WELL UNLESS THERE REALLY WAS? AND THERE IS SOMETHING THEY AREN’T TELLING US. WE WOULD NEVER REALLY KNOW, NOW, WOULD WE?)
Well, how did they write what they knew then? Well, the answer to that is plain old research and simple yet complex imaginations.
And so that’s what I think the phrase ‘write what you know,’ really means, not just experiences of your own life.
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What do you think about the phrase write what you know?
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Also Check out the excerpt for the upcoming werewolf short story IN THE HOUR OF HUMANITY
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