I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage about writing what you know. That’s a good piece of advice, I think, because it means you’re in familiar territory when writing. But perhaps a better piece of advice would be to write what you love. Write what you are most passionate about and what you would choose to learn about regardless of the time it took to study. Write what grips your soul and makes you want to read all the books ever written about it. Even if it’s not something that you, yourself, have experienced on a day-to-day basis (which is what I take “what you know” to mean), the passion you have for that thing or topic is going to shine through in your writing.
In a recent post on his Terrible Minds blog, Chuck Wendig is also covered this topic. In fact, his post was called Why You Should Write What You Love, and I love what he said here: “The things you write — that you choose to write, because you want to jolly well fucking write them — are likely things you’re better at writing because you chose to move in that direction. Writing things that don’t really speak to you? I can often feel it. It feels stilted, awkward, a story forced into an uncomfortable shape by an author wearing someone else’s skin. It’s itchy and weird.”
I know exactly what he means when he talks about the weird feeling you get when you’re writing something you don’t love or haven’t chosen. Maybe it’s something that you think will sell better in the world of publishing. Maybe you think it’s what your family would like to read, so you’re writing it to please them when they pick up your book on the shelf of a store. Or maybe it’s something that you know really well, or have experienced firsthand, but aren’t necessarily crazy about. In all of those cases, writing it is going to feel sort of wrong.
On the other hand, when you write about something that you truly love, the story is very unlikely to feel forced or awkward. As Chuck says here, it will be a writing path that you chose for your own reasons, not someone else’s reasons. That’s the best way to move forward with your writing because you’ll enjoy it more and, ultimately, you will produce a better product.
I hope this advice helped you in some way. If you’re writing something that you know, but don’t necessarily love, try setting it aside in favor of something that you’re really passionate about and see if you notice a difference. As always, happy writing!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan