Write What You Know
I read books from every genre and from every literary background, and I hope everyone else does too. The more I read, however, the more I think about the motivations to write in a specific way, or specific genre.
What is the draw to writing Horror? Why does creating a fantasy world appeal to some people? What is the difference between the two and what are the similarities?
The more I think about it, it comes down to drive, talent and interest.
There is a phrase in the writing community where you should always “write what you know”. I’ve always thought that was a strange concept, because many of the things that I was interested in growing up, and in fact still to this day, have no basis in reality, so what does that really mean?
Writing what you know to me doesn’t have anything to do with writing what happened to you today (though for some people, that’s exactly what that means), it means writing what your interest is.
Growing up and going to creative writing classes there is a great disdain for genre writing. (I was told many times, why didn’t I just write something real? Why was I wasting my time?) These people wanted to play with form and they wanted to be artistes (as Joyce would put it), but really unless you have incredible talent, at a high school level, or as a freshman in college you wouldn’t be able to produce anything of value anyway (look at Pynchon’s “Slow Learner”. The title says it all).
So I wrote what I knew. I wrote what I was interested in. What is amazing is how your abilities grow the more you use them. If you look at any of my earlier work, I am most definitely a slow learner, but writing is like woodworking, the more you do it the better you get. you start to notice pitfalls, you start to notice your own eccentricities.
To layer on that you need to study other’s works. The more you read the more you see how other authors have honed their craft. How they have perfected their voice. You take all this information and you mold it in your own work and eventually you get your own style.
So your interest gets you started and you can perfect your talent.
The only think left is drive.
One can go from being a genre hack to being a very respected author, whether they stay within their genre or not. Everything there comes down to drive. What is it that propels you into the writing world? Is it money? Is it fame? (Get a reality check if it’s either of these) or is it the love of telling stories?
If it’s money or fame, you’ll never progress beyond hack level (Palahniuk, I’m looking at you), but if it’s the love of telling stories you develop a drive. That drive gets stronger and stronger with every success that you have, because you begin to realize that others are willing to listen to your stories. You strive to do more, so you get better and better. You develop a specific voice. Those interests you once had broaden, and you start believing that everything you have is literature. You develop depth and passion. Your genre writing now can be read by anyone and it’ll be looked at as joining a club (just look at George R.R. Martin’s success…assuming he ever finishes his series).
So write what you know. Read everything and write every day. Have fun and don’t worry about what others think. You may write one story that people never see. You may write a thousand, but eventually you’ll write that one that’ll break the barrier and you’ll get to start sharing with the world.