Write about what you know

Write about what you know. This is one of the well known “rules” of fiction writing. Some writers have even taken it too far, and they only write about stuff they’ve been practically obsessing about for at least ten years.

In a way, we all write about ourselves; a part of our subconscious always resurfaces when we’re writing a story, no matter how far apart from our own lives we try to set it. Sadly, most writers try too hard not to involve their personal lives, their pasts, into the stories they’re writing.

A while back I used to do the same thing. I would try to keep the true me as far away from my narrators and characters and situations as possible. And in result, all I wrote were some stories. That’s what anyone can do, with a little bit of practice and time. Most writers might be tempted to draw a line between any character and themselves, for fear of being judged by their friends or relatives (if those people would read their stories), they’re afraid the people they know will see something that they aren’t supposed to see. But these kind of fears only put unnecessary pressure on the writer.

Also, I find it odd that most writers think about their lives and the people they know as never being good enough material for a character or story. Their lives are boring; they haven’t lived long enough, they haven’t seen enough square miles of this Planet, they haven’t done volunteer work in India, and people are going to hate their stories. But that’s not true. If you just  look back at your life, you’ll see some pretty amazing and unique moments.

For any writer the act of writing should imply complete freedom. There are no rules to bind you, not when you’re sitting at that desk doing your thing. No. That’s why you should write about what you love. Write about what you hate, about your dreams and aspirations, write about your nightmares, write about what you hate.

Write about your passions, about the people you admire, write without fearing that you don’t have anything to say, because you do. If you’ve lived on this Planet, or even anywhere remotely close to Earth, you have something to say.

During our lives we accumulate knowledge, we absorb information, we live and breathe, we get our hearts broken, we meet quirky characters, we witness tragedies, we do all sorts of stuff, and all that needs to be there, on paper, because it’s what truly makes art beautiful.

I know it’s a difficult process. I know that introspection is painful, no matter who’s doing it, but I do know that, as Chuck Palahniuk once said, art is never born out of happiness. It requires solitude and work, it also requires patience, but keeping true to yourself, being honest in your writing, that can lead to wonderful things.

Art is constantly evolving because of this. Because artists have this unique ability to witness the world around them and absorb details that are invisible to others. They can see the beauty in the most mundane of situations, they can see the sublime in the most outrageous of actions, they can feel what others can’t, and for that they’re willing to pay a price. True artists are rarely happy; they live in order to observe, they live in order to make others feel.

To have the gift of clarity and not use it is a fate more cruel than you can imagine. To write down cute, empty stories because you feel that people will hate your for writing the truth is nothing short of a disaster.

A friend of mine once said that some of our characters have traits that we have and some have traits that we wish we had. We’re all searching for something in our writing. Whether we find it or not, the pursuit is what really matters. And it would be a shame to ruin everything by trying to keep your thoughts and beliefs out of your stories.

Keeping your true self away from your writing is one of the few really harmful things you can do to your stories. After all, we just want to make other people feel and say, “Yes, this can happen, this could happen to me. I believe.”

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24 comments on “Write about what you know

  1. Balaka says:

    Thankfully my blog is all about my personal experiences. I had a pretty eventful life which I feel is worth penning down. I just camouflage the characters a bit while writing. Good post.

  2. mitadaur says:

    This is an awesome post Cristian. Loved it. And your points are very valid. We always need to write what’s affected us most in any form. Well written.

  3. We need to think outside the box as writers.

  4. Prakash J says:

    Truer words were never said. And your writing rocks. It’s simple, clear prose that sucks the reader into its world. Please keep writing 🙂

  5. Also, some find it difficult or it would take some time to write about something you haven’t edperience… I guess that’s why some writers go to certain places to get the feel of what they’re writing.

  6. GANSU says:

    I am new blogger, thank you for insights into writing.

  7. Someone told me the title she said “write what you know” then I found myself imaging one of my characters of me and the other after girls I have met and liked

  8. That is a lovely post!
    ” During our lives we accumulate knowledge, we absorb information, we live and breathe, we get our hearts broken, we meet quirky characters, we witness tragedies, we do all sorts of stuff, and all that needs to be there, on paper, because it’s what truly makes art beautiful.”
    This is so much relatable. I always say- I write to express. Writing is a very personal thing for me and yes! I agree. Including oneself, one’s thoughts and feelings in writing is important. Great article!

  9. apolla13 says:

    To be honest I was the complete opposite when I started writing. I didn’t write about what I knew because I was 12 and I didn’t know much about the “adult world” so I wrote in the fantasy genre because what I knew about it I could make up from my imagination 🙂 I’ve always been partial towards the fantasy, sci-fi and supernatural genres even when I try to write outside of it.
    Your post is awesome by the way 🙂 You’ve hit on a lot of issues and feelings I’ve been through.

  10. I loved this! Its so thought-provoking.

  11. You’ve got to write what you know. That’s where you passion comes from. I started years ago as a Sci-Fi writer. The stories were OK, and I might revisit them again someday, but it wasn’t until I started writing about what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what I care about that things started really clicking.
    Need an example. Talking about space walking. I’ve never done it. All I could do was take the accounts of the folks that have done it, and try to put myself in their place. It wasn’t impossible, and I think I did a good job, but at the end of the day, it’s not something I knew first hand.
    Now ask me about being shot at, or the sheer terror of being in an environment where every shadow could hide a man with a weapon. Or about a small band of brothers, each watching the others back. Or the love two people can share. Those are the things I know about. I didn’t need to research that stuff, I know it. And suddenly, the stories came to life.

  12. curioushart says:

    My characters are better at being me than I am.

  13. Curioshart, you made me stop and thing, and in some respects, I think our characters (at least in some cases) are the people we hope to be.

  14. Love this post here Cristian! You definitely made some incredible points here!!!

  15. jeffreybotah says:

    I feel that I can agree with this. I read something like this from another writer and she admitted that her best stories came from basing her characters on people that she knew.

  16. Dee says:

    thought provoking! Well written Christian… always enjoy reading your posts 🙂

  17. really supporting this ….. well written and educative. thank you

  18. Dehl says:

    I am comfortable writing about that which is familiar to me. Persons, places and life experiences. The right words just come out easily. I don’t think I will ever try fictional writing but right now, what you also said applies to what I write about. They are things I know. thank you:)

  19. Well written. When I write something, I fear people will judge me based on the characters I have written. The thing is, though I try to give each character their unique attributes, there’s still a bit of me in them.

  20. simon7banks says:

    At the same time, I suspect hardly any writers have experienced space travel and none have experienced death (I don’t count near-death experiences, revealing though they are). Fortunately, few of us have experienced war. But in thinking about how a green soldier might feel as battle approaches, we can make use of our actual fears and other experiences.

    There are pitfalls in writing from your own experience. The world will seem different to other people. Are all the characters in your writing rather too much like you or mechanical and seen from the outside only? Have your own prejudices seeped in? I’ve read a book and thought, “I suspect this guy is a snob”. Is there something about other people (religion, maybe, or love of out-of-the way academic subjects) you really don’t get? Try to get some understanding before you write of it.

    • Yes, you have to research it. In a novel I’m writing, out protagonist is a Marine Corp Sniper. Now in my Military and Law Enforcement career, I’ve never been assigned sniper duties. I know the mechanics, and could do it, BUT that said, what the mind set of one.

      I had to hunt down a few, talk to them at length, and see what made them click. Only then did my Sniper start ringing true.

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