It’s some of the most common advice given to writers: Write what you know.
I’ve read that so many times, across so many writing books, that it’s practically hammered into to me and then I became afraid to stray from its path.
Well… what do I know? Not a great lot actually because I’ve led a fairly sheltered, adventure less life.
That’s fine. That’s why we have google and TV.
I do stand behind “write what you know” and it’s true that it makes writing a heckuva lot easier, but I want to tweak it just a tad. How about we say “write what you want“?
Confession: I’ve been working on a novel with the exact same characters for the past twenty years. I have tweaked and fussed with and prodded that stupid thing until it’s barely recognizable in its original form. I’ve even come close to finishing it before demolishing the whole thing because I simply didn’t like it. Oh us writers with our thin, brittle skin.
While living in Korea (all right, I’ve had a few adventures), something incredible happened. I met some of the most free-spirited, authentic people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. It’s not saying there aren’t a lot of this sort out there, but I don’t get out much and socializing isn’t my forte, so yeah, it was pretty eye-opening. What this did for me is to take a second look at that novel that had been giving me trouble since I was in middle school and to ask myself, what gives? What’s stopping me from completing this when I’ve invested so much of myself into it?
Wait. So much of myself? Really?
It was wrong. Completely wrong. I looked at the main male character, Adrian, and then I looked at his (male) best friend and his (female) love interest and thought, ‘I’ve never been particularly interested in her. He doesn’t act all that interested in her. She’s boring to write.’ But the best friend, he inspired me. I’ve always been a little in love with him and… hold up… so has Adrian.
Wow. That’s what happened. I wasn’t writing what I really wanted and I knew it. I wasn’t telling the story that I had been itching to tell. That’s how I was sabotaging the story. It wasn’t the story that needed to be told. It wasn’t the story I even wanted to tell. Instead I was writing what was safe, what would be acceptable to general mainstream audiences and that isn’t fair to me, the book, or my characters.
And this is all a little scary when you want to write something that could receive backlash, or goes against the grain of how you were raised, and come out and admit it. I have to admit it though. The only way the story will be completed is that I’m honest to myself about what I want to write.
As soon as I admitted who the characters are, I was able to write a full detailed outline, enough that I now have a thorough idea of the story from start to finish. Once I get a desk and more than thirty minutes in the morning to write, I’m into that book like a stay at home mom with her red wine. That wine is sure to make me all the more honest after all.