How To Write What You Know

“Write what you know” is one of the most common pieces of writing advice and one of the hardest to follow.

You may think that if you know how to fly a hot air balloon, then you write about flying a hot air balloon.

If you know how to hunt gators, then you write about hunting gators.

If you got stuck in an elevator, then you write about getting stuck in an elevator.

You know useful, practical things, or you have life experiences, so you write about those things you know.

It’s sort of like that.

But there are other things you know, too. You know how the sand sinks in between your toes when the ocean tide goes out.

You know the feeling of electricity in the air the moment before a rainstorm hits.

You know what it feels like for the person you love to fuck up a relationship just like you know what it feels like to be the one to fuck up a relationship.

You have a deep well filled with joy, loneliness, wonder, curiosity, anger, despair, and awe.

These are the things that make up the human condition.

These are the things that drive people to connect with one another through writing, art, music, photography, or anything else that is creative.

When I write my stories this is the well I tap into.

Having always been creative, I don’t know a lot of useful things. Send me on a mission to Mars to build a human colony, and I’d be completely fucking useless. That is unless if you want, I don’t know, a scribe or something.

When I read, I don’t want someone to explain the mechanics of maneuvering a hot air balloon or the skill of hunting a gator. That’s what YouTube is for.

I want to feel the awe of floating in the air with the landscape and horizon stretching out below. I want to know what it feels like to hunt another living creature and to take it’s life.

That is the most powerful kind of writing. It can make someone feel like they’re not alone in the world. It can make them feel the kind of connection that people find in art.

There are no “how to” videos on YouTube for the human condition. When I write what I know, I have the most difficult time sharing it, much less living it. But as another writer once said, “If the black dog is going to take up space in your head, make him work for it.”

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash


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