The first time I read ‘you should write about what you know’, I went into a panic. I don’t want to write about web design !!
It was only several Writing Books later that I understood the meaning of such advice.
Although Jane Wenham’s self-help book “Wannabe a Writer?” seems to have wander off a bit from middle to end, the easy-going insights in its first part helped shed some light over the misconceptions I had on writing habits.
For example, we imagine that a professional writer surely writes for hours and that we will do that as soon as we have more free time. Then we don’t — and feel like a failure. This author reminds us of the Parkinson’s Law, which explains why that happens:
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
Jane herself is an example of how free time doesn’t necessary booms our daily word count. She tells us that back in the days when she had no babies and full days to write, she struggled to fill her word count. Then, when she became a mother and only had Fridays off when her mother offered to babysit, her word count rose steadily. Friday alone amounted significantly to that weekly word count and she wrote faster than before. Jane also points out that everyone is different, of course, but she works best under pressure.
When it comes to the rule of thumb of writing about what you know, this author says something ingeniously simple that I had never thought of before: what we know is not just related to our day job or university degree. “Duh, Vanessa, really?” you may say — but have you thought about it? What do you write about? Do you struggle to be original all the time or prove through your writing that you know what you are talking about?
“Your subject matter doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. The hallmark of all successful writing is the emotional truth it contains — that is why writers like Maeve Binchy and Joana Trollope are so popular. Both write about fairly ordinary goings-on but in the sort of intimate and insightful way that will strike a chord with every reader.”
With Jane I learned that all my memories, good and bad, are now useful experiences and part of my knowledge about human interaction. The actions I took in life as well as what I’ve seen happen to others; the feelings I experienced and the things I wished I had done but didn’t, are all potential scenes for a novel or short story.
The interesting part of remembering less fortunate events you are sorry about, is that you can shape all of that into whatever you want, adapt it to make for a more compelling story and trash your faults and hidden evil thoughts in another character’s voice. And we love to hate evil characters, don’t we? You will bring depth and realness to them and I just won’t be able to drop it. Just make sure to cover the glimpses that tell who experienced it in real life.
Next time you think about that rule – write about what you know – you can stop feeling so overwhelmed; remember that you have several novels in you and a lot of interesting things to share. In a way, you’re given free license to go ahead and reinvent your past.
Don’t be sorry about the things you didn’t do, lie about it!