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4 Ways to Write what You Know

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called, "What do you know?"

I covered this topic to great extent in my book, but of course since writing it I’ve had new experiences and many delightful, enriching conversations with authors I respect and admire.

As such, I bring to you: 4 ways to write what you know!

Let’s talk about “what you know,” for starters. As an English speaker, you may be familiar with some common sayings, such as…

Curiosity killed the cat.

Great minds think alike.

Blood is thicker than water.

and there are plenty more, but let’s keep it simple for starters. Did you know that these sayings are incomplete?

[Curiosity killed the cat], but satisfaction brought it back.

[Great minds think alike], but fools rarely differ.

The [blood] of the covenant [is thicker than] the [water] of the womb.

Interestingly enough, the meanings behind these sayings changes pretty dramatically when the saying is complete. I’ve given both this and the common writing rule a lot of thought the past few weeks.

Write what you know.

It’s straight out of a “how to write good stuff” textbook; you probably heard it from your English teacher/writing coach/some author you met at Starbucks. I’m going to complete the saying for you today.

[Write what you know] you must write.

Here are some tips to help you accomplish your “write what you know” goals!

1. Carefully consider what you “know.”

This can be an experience you’ve had or a place you’ve visited – but it can be more than just those things. An emotion you know. A desire you know. A pleasure you know. In On the Rules of Writing, Ursula K. LeGuin says, “Write what you know, but remember you may know dragons.” (And yes, I did quote her in my last post on this topic). The meaning behind LeGuin’s statement is that, no, nobody has ever met a dragon face-to-face, but we likely know someone in our lives or have faced some obstacle that can be personified by the “dragon” in our story.

2. Write from the heart.

Unless you’re writing a technical book, in which case you should literally only write things you know, then you should write from your heart. Your soul. There are definitely times that you’ll have to buckle down and do the hard work, but I’ve written so many blog posts (and an entire book!) about dedication to the craft. How many times are we told to write with our feelings? Not nearly often enough. I made a new friend recently who is getting back into writing. The advice I gave? Write something that makes you laugh, something that makes you cry, and something that gets you excited for writing (something you just think is cool). Let your emotions and desires guide your writing journey. You’ll have plenty of time to clean it up later.

3. Write what you know is wrong – or what you don’t know at all.

Sometimes, a great insight into what we know is taking a good, hard look at the things we know to be false. Or things we don’t understand. We see this manifest often as parody or satire. Comedians perform segments in a way that challenges what we know or understand to be true, often burying a nugget of truth amongst the lies. Buzzfeed did a fun video exploring the possibilities of men and women switching places. We know this can never happen, but we learn through the process what the human condition is. A good writing exercise is to be utterly sarcastic or hyperbolic. Write something that you know is absolutely false. Write it as fact, and see what you can uncover about your knowledge in that fashion.

4. Write about what you find important.

Maybe you’re passionate about something you don’t really understand yet. Perhaps you’d like to know more about it. Writing about something you don’t understand is an amazing way to gain insight and learn! There’s a reason essays are part of curriculum and lesson plans pretty universally. If you don’t know much about bakeries, write a story that takes place in a bakery. Spend a few days reading other stories about bakeries, learning how they operate, perhaps looking at photographs. Interview people who work at bakeries. Decide how the setting affects your story, and discover what you need to know about the bakery in order to move the story forward.

What’s some advice YOU can offer about writing what you know? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Don't forget to subscribe to Novel News so you never miss an update.

Happy New Year!

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