Aliens and dragons and murders, oh my!
Well, can't write about any of those things, or much of anything else for that matter. After all, the cardinal rule of writing is to write what write what you know, right? But it's become such a cliche.
How many times have you heard the phrase? A teacher at school might say it; maybe a leader at a workshop. Even some writers who may be great writers, but don't know how in the world to teach utter the (gasp) ultimate phrase, "Write what you know."
It hangs there in the air between you. You wait. Nothing. No elaboration.
Now I ask you, what kind of thing is that to say without filling in the details?
I mean taken at face value, if you haven't killed anyone recently, or battled aliens on a planet in a galaxy far far away, then you're kinda up a creek, aren't you? In the grand scheme of things you really don't know much, do you? Me either.
So, take a deep breath, don't hyperventilate and pay attention. From the age of 13 when I began writing seriously I had that toss-off phrase hurled my way on numerous occasions. Based on my experience of novels published, screenplays optioned, and other assorted writing bits published, here's my take on it.
That particular phrase can take on a whole new (and yes, even enlightening) meaning. Let me explain. You and I really do know a whole lot.
We're all human. At least I am and I'm presuming for purposes of this exercise that you are too. We share many common experiences. It isn't as if you have to actually encounter aliens in deepest, darkest space in order to write about them. You already have what you need inside to do that. You've experienced fear in your life, probably terror.
Few haven't felt the familiar cold prickle at the back of their neck. You know what it means to sweat and to feel relief too. I know you've felt pain and anxiety as well. If you're not afraid of the dark now you probably were as a kid (or, if you're a kid reading this, well, what can I say?).
Those experiences and feelings, the spectrum of the human experience, common to us all are what that (gasp) ultimate phrase refers to.
So don't allow your dreams of writing be squashed or thrown off track by that time-honored grand poobah's utterance.
Do, instead, take the time to know what you're writing about.
If you're writing non-fiction, you can learn what you need to know about a subject through research. Then use your life's experiences to breathe life into that writing.
Know how you would react to what you've learned, how it makes you feel. Project that feeling onto your writing and see how positively your readers will react to you.
If it's fiction you're pursuing, create the world where your story will be framed; be true to your world. Then think about how you would react. If you saw unspeakably ugly aliens coming at you through a dark hole in space what would you feel?
How would others react around you? Would you jump to the conclusion that the aliens were friendly or evil? Something in between? Delve deep. Think about all those things, feel them, and then use them to your advantage.
After all, we're all human.
Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (Ebook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating with a producer on a animated series. http://www.peggybechko.50megs.com/