Most of us know very little but the commonly held belief is that we should write what we know. Personally, I enjoy a fair bit of research, so I don’t need to know very much to be intrigued enough to write something. However, it makes sense to incorporate our life experience into our writing.
On the radio yesterday, a young black author was talking about what it is like being a young black author. I could not profess to know this and it would seem presumptive of me to even try, but if I interviewed enough young black authors to extract a common theme, I might be on to a good factual piece.
A problem we all have is that we think we need to be extra special to know anything interesting, but of course, that is not true. We need the germ of an idea, often sparked by real-life experiences, our knowledge, the people we meet, but then it can evolve into something amazing.
What a good writer does have is an extraordinary perception, not an extraordinary life.
A good writer has an awareness of humanity, of its needs, its failings. Writing might be seen as the process of becoming aware rather than walking around with our eyes closed. Even people’s routines and habits can be described in an interesting way, but basically, as writers, we need to accumulate details of the world around us in order to play with those words we love so much.
Observation does not confine itself to the here and now. Many of our stories come from our past. Very few of our memories are factual, as most are woven into stories which form the fabric of our lives.
Writing what we know is often a pathway to writing what we don’t know. It involves re-awakening our senses but then using them in a discriminating way.