Write what you love...
A friend once asked me, “I want to write a book and was told I should write what I know. Is that correct?” My immediate answer to him was no. Since that conversation, I discussed the subject with one of my sons and would revise that answer to be “yes and no.” But let me explain:
If authors wrote only about the things they know on a personal level, books would be boring because most of us don’t live the most exciting lives. Fantasy and Sci-Fi would be impossible to write because there are no real goblins or living dragons or teleportation devices that can whisk us to planets far and wide. To “write what you know” would make biblical and historical fiction stale because no living person can testify to how things really were back then. But we can learn those things through study and educated imagination. You can always learn what you don’t know.
So no, don’t write what you know in the practical sense. Write what you love.
Passion for a person, era, or subject will drive you to seek the information you need to write a compelling novel. If you don’t love your story, no one else will either. The desire has to be yours alone. The drive to write must come from deep within you. Sometimes people want others to hold them accountable, to push them to accomplish their goals. But the truth is a goal will never be reached unless it is yours at a personal level, a longing to complete a task (in this case to write a novel), and to do whatever it takes to learn how to do it.
Write what you love, not what you know.
On the other hand, yes, write what you know at an experiential level. One thing that is true of writing is that the more life you have lived, the more you will have to say, and hopefully, the more wisdom you will have gleaned. Experience is a great teacher, if we have allowed God to mold us and teach us through life’s journey. If we have never known love, then writing romance will not have an honest ring to it. If we have never known loss or pain, how can we create believable characters that are suffering under trials? A writer has the distinct advantage of looking at life and seeing ways to apply their own joys and hurts to their characters.
So yes, write what you know, drawing on the joys and sorrows of your life to infuse believability and realism into your characters.
The next question every writer needs to answer is, “What do I love?” What story am I passionate about telling? And do I love it enough to do the work it takes to learn the craft in order to tell it well enough so people will read it?
By the time a book is in print, the author will have read and reread the story at least half a dozen times, probably more. If you don’t love your story, you’ll get sick of it fast. So what do you love? Have you created some characters that seem vivid and real to you? Or are you fascinated with an era in history that you research every chance you get? What books do you enjoy most? If you can answer these questions, you’ll be well on your way to discovering your own story passion and what it is God may be calling you to write.
Next time - So you know what you want to write, now what?
And looking ahead - Idea Boards and How do we avoid writing preachy fiction? - along with some tools of the trade that might be of use to you.
If writing fiction is your goal, perhaps I can help you take one step closer to reaching it.