We’ve all heard “Write What You Know.” What do you think? Truth or fallacy?
Is there an option for both? Because I’m going with both. #OwnVoices is a genre for a reason. And right now? When the world seems like it’s quickly going up in flames and headed off the side of a cliff simultaneously, while the only possible course to fix it is by understanding each other and showing compassion? Yeah, writing what you know is more important than ever. But, that in and of itself is a double-edged sword. What if you end up outing yourself / someone? What if feelings are hurt when the truth is put down on paper? Relationships can crumble under the pressure, the reality you know falling apart around you.
And, maybe an even harsher reality: what happens if all the agents you submit to reject you and no one wants to hear your side of the story after all?
Writing books is painful. Especially when you’re writing what you know. But that’s also part of what makes it so great.
Of course, that’s also assuming you have a story to tell. Maybe you’re just an average person with an average life doing average things. Should you create a novel / character based around your life if you’re just sitting around your house watching TV and going to your 9-5 job? Probably not. There’s enough of that in the real world that I can’t imagine a book really being able to find and fill a need in that niche. So, for those people, I encourage them to get a hobby, go out and see the world, and pull pieces from those experiences into the novel you’re wanting to write.
Do you have to live in a city to set a novel there? No, of course not. Does it help to build authenticity? Absolutely. Do you need to get a job as an accountant to write a novel with a protagonist who is one? No. That’s what research is for. With information being easier than ever to obtain online, you don’t have to go out and experience those things to be able to write about them effectively. It will always help, of course, but as long as you’re good at your job researching and finding editors / betas to help nitpick the small stuff? There’s not a desperate need to do it.
Do you write what you know?
A little bit yes, a little bit no. With locations, I tend to write about places I’ve either lived or spent enough time visiting that I felt like a local in the time I was there. I want to know where the weird bumps in the sidewalk are from tree roots pushing them up or about the way a certain traffic light always knocks up against a branch if the wind blows hard enough. But I don’t have to live there to experience those things. A visit is enough for me. Sometimes, Google Maps / Streetview also works — or serves as a decent reminder if I’ve forgotten.
I listen to people’s conversations or watch them in the streets and make up background stories for them in my head. Both of those things get adopted into my novels. But that person up above who just sits in their apartment and goes to work? That’s me. I’m boring and okay with it. But my life as it is right now? Wouldn’t make the best novel (unless I wrote about my day job. That would be heartbreaking, honestly) for anyone other than me. So, sure. There are bits and pieces from my every day life mixed in, but I don’t rely on just the things I know. Research is great.