Write What You Know
It’s a simple piece of advice echoed in thousands of ways. “Write what you know.” That’s what I’ve heard, read, and seen in people’s writing over the years. And it’s the single piece of advice I’ve heard most from others who write.
So I have a question.
How many writers actually do this?
Yes, of course, I understand there are elements of truth in all fiction. That’s quite obvious. And I know writers tend to put a little bit of themselves into what they write. That’s one of the reasons so many authors are passionate about what they do.
But if you take apart the elements of the story, how much of what authors write do they actually know?
Since I’m asking the question, I’ll use myself as the example. (It works well considering I don’t want to make claims on another author’s behalf.)
For NaNoWriMo, I planned, outlined, and wrote a majority of a fantasy novel. Like most fantasies, my novel was written entirely in a made-up world. The countries I created were not based off the United States in any real way. Nor was the continent based off North America (though I could certainly argue that my inclusion of three countries within my continent is similar to N.A.).
My fantasy elements are all based off elements in nature, so perhaps I’m writing what I know there. However, instead of using a typical four-element society, I dreamed big and wrote a ten-element society, which I’m still getting the hang of.
For the most part, my fantasy world is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never experienced a world where the most advanced form of transportation is through horse-drawn carriages, nor have I experienced a journey through a wild forest on foot that lasts more than a day.
I don’t know what it would be like to wield an element in nature, nor the extent to which a person would have to practice in order to control that element. And I don’t know what it’s like to watch a very close friend tortured to death.
These are just a few of the elements I’ve thrown into my world. Now I’m not trying to generate interest in my novel; I’m just explaining why I wonder how much writers actually know about the worlds they write in.
I do understand some of my world, for sure. My characters have become my friends, and I understand and know them. I know the friendships and relationships I’ve created, and I see the web I’ve weaved to tie them all together.
And as a great portion of what I write is in some way, shape, or form loosely based on others’ works that I’ve read or watched, I know those things, too. But it makes little sense to me to claim that I’m writing what I know.
I’m curious. Are there any other writers out there who have similar problems? And is it related more to the experience the author has? I’m relatively new to the art of writing a novel as this is the first one I plan to finish. So maybe I just don’t understand because I haven’t really been there yet.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear others’ perspectives. Let me know what you think.