“Write What You Know”
Most overused -and ignored- writing advice ever, right? How can you write what you know when writing about things you’ve never experienced? It’s not like a prerequisite for being a murder mystery writer is keeping actual skeletons in your closet, and I don’t think many fantasy authors are magic-wielding chosen ones in their spare time.
Then why is this advice still around?
I like to think that I’ve come up with an answer.
“Write what you know” isn’t about research. It’s about being able to reach into the hearts of your characters using the insights you gained from being a human around other humans. It’s about using your own emotions and experiences to make your readers care. While we may only live one life, our exposure to other people’s stories provide use with a rich base of inspiration to draw from.
Alright, so now you’re probably asking “Nicole, how can I actively use this brilliant insight to make my writing even more fabulous?”
Well, dear reader, I have all kinds of answers. So many that I’ve had to separate them into a three-part series on using your life experience in your writing! Isn’t that awesome? For our first post, we’ll be focusing on figuring exactly what kinds of life experiences you have to offer, so prepare for a lot of introspection! Once you’re done here, start making amazing ideas with Part Two, or improving your WIPs with Part Three!
Dive in to Your Experience Pool
“Experience Pool” is a term I’ve just made up to refer to the massive amount of memories and feelings that you’re carrying around in your head from a life epically lived. The first step to being able to use your experience base is to know what is there for the taking. I’ve come up with some questions for you to answer in four different categories to explore just how deep your experience pool goes.
Our experiences are how we learn about the world around us. these questions are a great place to start because they will help you get into a retrospective state of mind.
- What are some of your most intense (positive and negative) life experiences?
- What is your favorite childhood memory? How do you feel about it now?
- What is your favorite recent memory? Why?
- What struggles have you survived? What do you attribute this to?
- If you could go back and change the events from one of your memories, what would you change and why?
Your outlooks are the attitudes you’ve developed over time. When answering these questions, try to think about how your outlooks have developed and how they affect the decisions you make.
- What “truths” do you believe about the way people and the world work? What led you to believing in these?
- How do you define strength and weakness? Where do you see these things in yourself? In the people close to you?
- What kind of work ethic do you have? Do you judge others work ethic
- What are your views of morality? How do you decide if something is right or wrong?
- How would you describe yourself? Does this change depending on your audience?
The most important part of being a great writer is making your readers feel something. Whether it’s wonder or utter agony, we want others to invest their emotions into our stories. What better way to figure out how to do that then to figure out what moves us?
- What makes you the happiest?
- What is the most afraid you have ever been
- How do you feel about expressing your emotions?
- What kinds of things make you cry?
- What is the emotion you feel most often?
- How do you react to stressful situations?
As any diehard shipper will tell you, character relationships can make or break someone’s interest in your story. Creating realistic relationships can cause readers to invest a lot of emotion into what you’re writing. Learning about and analyzing our own heartstring-twisting relationships can help us recreate those feelings on the page.
- What signals do you rely on to gauge other people’s emotions?
- How do you measure the benefits of a relationship?
- How do you define a “complicated” relationship? What are some of your most complicated relationships, past or present?
- What differs between a romantic relationship and regular friendship?
- What kind of friend are you?
- How would you describe your family relationships? Do you get jealous of other families?
Whew! That was a lot of work, but these answers are just raindrops in an ocean of ways to awesome-ify your writing.
Want to go even further and prep for next week’s post? Try these epic exercises to keep exploring.
Visit The Neighbor’s Pool
Try writing down answers to the questions above from another person’s perspective. Is there someone in your life who you want to base a character on? Ask if you could interview them! Even if you don’t want to make them answer every question, knowing some of their outlooks and memories will help you catch their essence and use it to create an awesome character.
Create an Exploration Journal
Realize something interesting about yourself? Try using these questions as journaling prompts and invest time in crafting each answer. Learning more about yourself is great, and not just for your writing abilities!
Learn from Other Divers
Do some research into your favorite writer and try to see what their answers to these questions might be. Can you see places where this has affected their worK? Pick out one of your favorite characters and try to answer from their perspective. Adding buckets from their pools to your own can help you create diverse and realistic characters!
That’s all for Part One, guys! I’m so glad that I could share this awesome advice with you, and I hope that you’re excited for Part Two: Finding Inspiration (a.k.a. Singing in the Rain), which will be out next week!
What questions can you think of to help explore your experience pool? What questions gave you insight into your writing or inspired you? Towel off, then share your responses below, and don’t forget to spread the love on twitter with @SpunFromInk!
If you have any personal questions, or want help diving even deeper into your experience pool, feel free to e-mail me at SpunFromInk@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!
PS: I finished reading The Scorch Trials earlier this week! To see my thoughts on it, and to keep up with my reading, friend me on Goodreads and make sure to check out my Reading Goals for August!