Write what you know. Duh. Okay, I’m channeling Charlie Sheen for this week’s writing tip (I couldn’t resist). If you haven’t been blessed with Tiger Blood or Adonis DNA and want to write winning prose, the best advice out there, and writers get it all the time, is to “write what you know.” I remember sitting in my long fiction class at Hofstra University and my professor praising a scene I wrote that took place in Bryant Park in Manhattan.
“You’ve been to Bryant Park, yes?” my professor asked.
“Yes, I used to eat lunch there all the time when I worked in Manhattan,” I said.
“It shows,” she said.
What my professor meant was not that I got the landscape and physicality of the place correct, although I probably did. But I described what it feels like to be there — something I really could only nail if I had been there, especially many times.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has a terrific blog post on this subject, about how when you “write what you know” you write with truth, authenticity and heart. And keep in mind that writing what you know doesn’t necessarily mean writing it exactly as you know it. For example, if you are a writer and want to create a character who is a writer, that character doesn’t have to be you. You can cull the aspects of writerhood that you want to discuss and develop — your expertise, “what you know” — and embed them in someone totally different: an alien, a lab monkey, whatever.
What’ s more is I can attest that when I write what I know, and I do it as often as possible, that perennial struggle to get everything down on the page lessens just a bit, the words come easier, and I feel most authoritative as a writer. When you write what you know, the passion will show.
Or as Charlie Sheen might say: Duh. Winning.