Write What You Know
The very first piece writing tip I heard was “Write what you know”, and I resisted that for years. To my young, literal mind, it sounded like we were all being asked to write thinly veiled autobiographies or memoirs. That was the exact opposite of what I wanted from fiction: I wanted something that, if not quite escapist or speculative, could help me reimagine the world as I wanted it to be, if only for a little while. “What I knew” wasn’t always something I wanted to stay in. I suspect that’s true for many other writers as well.
It wasn’t until I was older that I started understanding the finer nuances of the advice. A story I had been working on for YEARS that I’d stubbornly insisted on placing in a far off location in the past was staring me in the face. The characters didn’t want to be there anymore, and the story didn’t want to be told there. Those characters wanted to look more like the people I had met in the years since I’d come up with the kernel for my story and wanted to be fleshed out with modern nuances. The story itself now wanted to speak to events and places that had made an impression on me.
Once I made the decision to put my characters in a time and place that I was already familiar with, the problems I’d been having with my characters’ motivations disappeared. Characters from other stories demanded to be included into this new world as well, and before I knew it I had a rich universe that I could immediately communicate to my readers. This didn’t take away from the core story; if anything, it allowed me to build on it. In other words, knowledge only made what I’d imagined better. So please, fellow authors, take my advice and save yourself a couple of decades of heartache: write what you know, even if it isn’t something you’ve experienced.
Deborah Nam-Krane was born in New York, raised in Cambridge and educated in Boston. You’re forgiven for assuming she’s prejudiced toward anything city or urban. She’s been writing in one way or another since she was eight years old (and telling stories well before that). It only took 27 years, but she’s finally ready to let the world read her series, The New Pioneers. The first book in the series- The Smartest Girl in the Room- was released in late March.