Write what you know. This old chestnut is taken out and dusted off time and time again for beginning writers. But what does that mean exactly? What are the things one knows that would make for good writing? The reason people give this advice is to hopefully encourage beginning writers to find a starting point. Instead of staring at the blank page, they look at their life and use that as inspiration.
But what if you don’t think you know anything? What if it makes you feel that you have to have an exciting life to be a writer? Or be an exciting (emotionally damaged) person? I certainly fall into the category of thinking I know so very little and that my life is barely lukewarm in the emotionally damaging excitement department – of my over fifty plays there is only one that comes directly from my own life.
I don’t necessarily think that “Write What you Know” is bad advice, but I do think it’s misdirected. For me, writing what you know means developing and determining your perspective. What is it that you think about yourself, where you are in the world, and what you think of the world. Determine a voice for yourself, a point of view. These are things that can be transformed into writing. If you have a point of view on violence, you can write a character with the same point of view. You can write a character with an opposing point of view. All of a sudden you’ve got conflict “” two characters who both want to share their view to someone who opposes it. Quick, lock the two in a room and write a play.
Below you’ll find some sentences starters to use to begin developing your personal perspective. Sit down, take some time with each, write between a half page and a page on each and you’ll be well on your way to having something to write about. And there are so many more things you can form a perspective on – pull up a headline and decide your opinion on the topic. It doesn’t have to be hardcore news, it could be fashion, gossip, fitness, fiction, start with the areas that you like and build from there. It would be a great exercise to start any writing session.
- I wish I could……
- I would never…..
- I will always……
- I firmly believe that…..
- I hate…..
- I love……
Over at big think writer Nathan Englander describes what “Write what you know” means to him.
And here playwright Tony Kushner says you shouldn’t write what you know.
What do you think? What does “Write what you know” mean to you?