They like to say, “Write what you know.” And often they mean that literally. To wit: write about the kind of life with which you’re familiar. They think that’s honest writing.
I think it’s a cop-out.
To be frank, the kind of life with which I’m familiar can sometimes seem rather boring. I’m a normal Canadian kid from a [somewhat unique] Canadian town. I spent some time in Texas, Oklahoma, Ontario, British Columbia, Los Angeles, and now I live in New York City. My parents are still together. I’m an only child and, for the most part, my relatives are all cordial, at the very least, and loving, during the best of times.
Noah Baumbach would be depressed at the normalcy of my life. Or perhaps impressed? Somedays I’m not sure about him.
Anyway, I think the phrase “write what you know” should relate more to theme than subject matter. While I’ve led a normal life on the surface, I’ve experienced pain, fear, pride, insecurity, and, as a quirky Canadian that moved to Texas at thirteen-years-old who played basketball and was a drama nerd, I’ve experienced my fair share of identity issues. I’m also quite familiar with feminism and femininity issues, as a pear-shaped tom-boy (see also: identity issues).
So what do I know? I know universal human fears. I know how it feels to not know who you are nor who you should be. I know the quandary of a person fighting a sense of duty and responsibility with a deep personal passion for something other.
So sometimes I’m writing about 30-something guitar teachers. Sometimes I’m writing about 60-year-old homeless felons. But I’m always writing about my own fears and insecurities. About what I don’t know. About the things for which I have questions.
And ideally, it’s writing that’s honest.
I’m a fledgling writer of fiction, so I’m taking this to heart. It tells me that while I need to have some reality (ie personal experience or researched knowledge) involved in my setting and action, what I am really writing about has to be something of universal soul experience or won’t touch anybody’s heart or life, not even mine!
Agreed! It should still be said that while the humanness of the issues is something that needs to be personal, one should always invest proper research or imagination into the building of other worlds or other places. 😉
Writing is daunting. I admire those who do it – from whatever focus they find most convenient. Glad you have discovered what works for you.. it makes perfect sense to me.