My husband suggested I write a book about when I was a teenager and had bad skin. I panicked. Every teenager has bad skin, sure, but for me hiding that “imperfection” became an obsession. And not a very healthy one. Our conversation went a little like this.
“You want me to bare my soul so that anyone that reads my book will know every detail of my inner craziness?”
“No way. That’s too much. That’s putting too much of me out there.”
He paused (it’s always a long pause with him). “You do know you don’t have to write a story about someone exactly like you. Your character doesn’t have to have the exact same insecurity as you did.”
I wanted to say – yea, of course I know that. But in reality, I hadn’t thought of it ’til then.
He continued. “Just write all the emotion you felt connected with your experience but apply it to another insecurity. Make that their story.”
How I hadn’t thought of this before then is beyond me, but knowing it has changed my approach on writing what I know. Here’s some of my new found truths.
Writing what you know doesn’t mean your novel is a page from your journal. My husband put it best, take the emotion from your life experiences, take the likeness of people who influenced you, maybe even set your novel in your old neighborhood, but you don’t have to write your story exactly.
Writing what you know does mean tapping in to your wealth of past emotions. How many of you know heartbreak? Or want? Or embarrassment? What about elation? Or pride for someone you love? You may have experienced these emotions at times in your life that don’t translate in to great story ideas, but the emotion can. Emotion is what makes characters feel human, tangible. Take what you know about those emotions and write that.
Writing what you know doesn’t have to just be from your own personal experiences. I have never known divorce, but I saw my friends live through divorce as a child. As a teenager, I saw friends with divorced parents dreading going to one parents house that weekend. I’ve seen grown friends go through divorce and the heartbreak there. These aren’t my life experiences, but I can still draw from them. With a little bit of puzzle work, I can take those experiences that I’ve seen and apply them just as readily in my writing as I can something that I experienced first hand.
Writing what you know should stretch you. Often the first piece an author gets published is based on a personal experience. It’s true for me. My story, The School Lunch that Almost Killed Me is based on me in third grade – only I loved turkey gravy and rice, not pea soup. While that was not a hard experience to share, there will be some that we hesitate sharing. I recommend we find the courage to share those stories – powerful stuff can come from it.
The main purpose of writing what we know is to make our stories feel alive, human. Nothing can accomplish that better than when we infuse our characters with real experiences, real emotions and the real life as we see it around us everyday. Or as Coca-Cola puts it, “Can’t Beat the Real Thing.”
Was the first thing you published based on a personal experience? Tell us more about it below.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: “Did you say no? I heard yes” – Click Here
Like Writing? Like This Post? Follow Me 🙂