People are always telling us to write what we know. Don’t do that! Unless what you want to write is blogs. Like this one. Which is great. I know this. So I am blogging it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not the kind of writing that’s the writing that people mean when they say write what you know. This is information sharing. And if you are blogging, sure, write what you know. Although I must say even with this blog, I am curious to hear what I know about writing what I don’t know.
And curiosity is key.
DON’T WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – WRITE TO DISCOVER WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW
In creative writing, deeper writing, do not write what you know. Write to find out what you know. The things you know that you didn’t know you knew. The new levels. The deeper meanings. The way things are connected. The bigger truths. What’s funny about it. What really happened. Write to find out, write to get it out.
Sometimes I do not even know what happened – the most basic level of experience – until I write about it. There’s a scene at the end of Dawson’s Creek – yes Dawson’s Creek, whatever – where Dawson says to Pacey, or is it the other way around? – that writers are the luckiest people because they get to live their lives twice. Once the first time and then the second time when they write about it.
Living life that second the around is when you find out what really happened. What was that thing you said when no one was listening? Why were you eating raw food? What were you really feeling when your ex walked in the room with your old hat on? It all goes by so fast. Writing is a way to slow it down, really see it. Frame by frame. And truthfully make meaning from it. And to shape it. Writing is a way to create chapters. Beginnings and endings. To start fresh. Writing can change your life. But not if you only write what you know.
IF YOU AREN’T WRITING FOR THRILLS HOW CAN IT BE THRILLING TO READ YOUR WRITING?
What inspired me to write this blog? I saw some pink against the sky. I turned down the alley to see what it was. It was a whole bunch of pink balls. Floating, against the sky. Unexpected. Write like you are looking for the pink balls. Let things ‘catch your eye’ and then go down dark alleys to get a better view. That’s the thrill of writing. And if you aren’t writing for the thrills, how can it be thrilling to read your writing?
WHAT CATCHES YOUR EYE?
And when I say see what catches your eye I mean:
- See what attracts you
- Listen to what questions you are persistently asking
- What are you obsessed with, be honest, maybe it really is Rhianna
- What do you have a nagging sense that you don’t fully understand
- What story do you tell over and over again, always changing little details about
- What picture did you take that you keep looking at
- What songs can’t you get out of your head
- In therapy what are you endlessly complaining about
- What are your triggers
- What are you drawn to
But let me clarify one thing. There’s nothing wrong with writing about an area you have expertise in. A path you’ve walked down that others haven’t. There’s nothing wrong with diving into a certain pool that is yours alone. But the phrase ‘write what you know’ sound so prescriptive, closed door, narrow to me. I hope this opened up some possibilities for you and you are running after the pink balls down an alley right now!
Feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or for coaching and writing class schedules.