Write what you know is an old adage. And there are times, such as my equestrian lit works, where it weaves seamlessly into the work and the knowledge shines through. Then there are others where you either don’t want to have experienced or known what was happening (thinking mysteries or horror) or where the setting is so not like this world where it would be impossible to have said as an author it was a place that you’ve known.
Too many authors translate “write what you know” into things you’ve seen, done, or have experienced. If you have an expertise in an area, such as a former university professor writing about mysteries set in an academic setting, then “write what you know” can seem to apply there. Things you like to research often show up in your work. But what about those times when your subject matter truly isn’t something you “know”? How can you write your stories into those works too?
I think if you limit “write what you know” to things that you’ve experienced, researched extensively, or seen in your life, then you’re taking an extremely narrow view of the adage. The truth is your authentic stories, your authentic self, shows up far more often in your stories than you think.
If we put together the moments in our lives–seeing a loved one after an extended absence, the death of someone we care about, being surprised by getting something we want, or being disappointed by not getting it, hearing praise–those moments transcend the immediate experience. It’s these moments that show up in our stories, not the exact experience.
When we, as authors, get in touch with our authentic selves, when we exist in our own spaces, even if it’s just for us, as our true, authentic being, then we have those moments, those stories, to put into our works, even if what we write bears absolutely no resemblance to our own daily life.
Getting in touch with these stories and these emotions, goes beyond genre, or experiences, or even your writing style or if you “write to market” or “write for the love of it”. You can plot, or follow the beat, or let the story lead you where you want to go. It really doesn’t matter, because from point to point, beat to beat, or surprise twist to perfect resolution, all of those become based in the universality of thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Whatever stories you harbor deep inside, whether it’s the urge to explore strange, new places or just a new coffee shop with your good friends, whether you’re finding the answers to a twisty puzzle that could save the nation, or gaming with friends on a Friday night, those stories can fill your writing with a vibrancy and depth of knowledge that will indeed, having you write what you know.