At this point in history, I think it’s pretty well known, that piece of writing advice that goes write what you know.
Write what you’re familiar with.
Write what your experiences are.
Write what you know.
But the problem is that people look at this superficially. They look at it as the need to write an autobiographical account of life—a fictionalised version of the things that have happened.
As a result: get a job. Make mistakes. Pursue a life worthy of retelling.
Superficially, sure, that’s what “write what you know” means.
But not really. How much is a forced adventure worth retelling? And, besides, when you’re finished telling that singular story or experience . . . what’s left for your next story? If your writing is creative nonfiction, then that might limit the stories that you tell unless you delve into someone else’s stories.
But then you’re not writing what you know.
What does write what you know even mean?
Writing what you know means writing what you know—not just the experiences, but the emotions as well.
Just as you've got a vibrant life, you've got a robust inner life. There are so many things you know that may never have physically happened to you.
Write what you know also means
WRITE WHAT YOU FEAR
WRITE ABOUT YOUR DREAMS
WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO SAY
You know why?
Because what you know isn’t just what you’ve done.
Your emotions are what you know.
Your thoughts are what you know.
Who you are is what you know.
The things that keep you up at night are what you know.
The things that make you jump for joy are what you know.
The phrases that resonate with you are what you know.
Your friends and enemies are what you know.
Never mind about “cinema worthy” conflicts—anything that causes you pain, joy, or anything in between is what you know.
Forget about what makes a “good story”—your happy endings are what you know.
A meaningful conversation, familial advice, or a nightmare are as much “what you know” as an adventure.
Writing “what you know” is writing the big, and the small. It might be writing a big adventure, but more often then not it’s writing an authentic moment, a small one, one that is haunting in its beauty.
Because those small truths, those small “what you knows” are real.
They are what you know.