When it comes to writing it’s a pretty much guarantee that you’ll be told to “write what you know”, and the first few times you hear it you’re like “oooh, let me take notes! This is going to be good!”
Then you get a few years – or 20 in my case! – of some kind of writing under your belt (or on your laptop, in your notebook, wherever you like to put that stuff) and when that old “write what you know! Then you’ll become a brilliant author!” remark comes spewing out of some experienced writer’s mouth you scream silently into your unravelling cardigan, thinking;
It’s not that writing what you know is an inherently bad thing to add into your writing process, but the practical application of it can be very limiting – sci-fi authors, for example, can’t all be victims of alien abduction and time travel, right?
What I mean by practical application is that, when it comes down to it, you don’t just write what you know, .but rather your experience up until now – and limiting yourself to writing on only topics you have any clue about can severely hinder your process.
Writing in itself is a strange process. It’s not something you love 100% of the time, not if you want to do a good job. It’s also more learning about what you do know, and putting that knowledge into something coherent that doesn’t read like a technical how-to, nor is it a direct story from your own life.
In writing, there is focus on trying to be as authentic as possible. We don’t want to get it wrong. If we want to write a character who has trouble being a parent, how can those of us who are childless know what that feels like? Do we research to add more depth to that character? Or do we leave it and move on to something we have more knowledge about?
There’s a mighty fine balance, and the best way to find that balance is to just write. Write what you know, write what you don’t – write long paragraphs of text, or just a few words – whatever you want to write about, the only real tried-and-true approach is to practice writing. Find out what you’re good at, what you like – and you’ll quickly begin to find your voice, the type of novels (or not!) you want to write.
In the end, it’s not being authentic that’s hard – it’s finding your uniqueness. That, and making sure you don’t get distracted along the way!