Are You Writing About What You Know?

“You should write about what you know.” This is a sentence which I’ve read many times over, but it used to leave me extremely confused, mostly because I also read somewhere that every writer’s biggest mistake is to write an autobiography as their first book – and I fully agree with that sentiment.

Truth is that unless you’ve fought off lions with a coat hanger, or taken over Mordor with an iron fist, no one really cares about your daily ritual of sipping coffee, battling Internet trolls, and watching countless episodes of The Walking Dead; it’s mundane and shouldn’t be the backbone of any novel. In the simplest terms possible: unless you’ve done something extraordinary, leave the autobiography thing alone.

Right about now, you’re probably screaming at me and saying, “So, then, how can you write about what you know, idiot?” Well, it’s quite easy.

Writing about what you know isn’t about spilling your entire life history (that’s what social media is for); instead, it means two things: (i) being true to yourself; and (ii) often “borrowing” elements from your real life.

Let’s have a look at these two points in more detail.

1) Being true to yourself means writing about what you love and avoiding imitation. When it comes to writing, imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery; it’s actually rather annoying and pointless. I hate reading books where the author blatantly copies another author’s voice. Why do it? Writing is supposed to be a creative process, not a tracing exercise. Yes, you will always be influenced by someone or something (and you can learn much from others), but never forget your own unique voice. Truth is: if you aren’t being genuine, people will spot the sham a mile away.

2) Borrowing elements from real life. For example, every character that appears in my stories is based on an amalgamation of people whom I’ve met or know personally. The great thing about writing is that I can amplify any desired characteristics or quirks, and take various liberties that will most likely offend the original inspiration of the character if they ever had to find out. That leads me to my next point: NEVER tell anyone that you’ve based a character on them; your life will be safer. Trust me.

So, there you have it. These are my thoughts on this hot topic. I’m sure that someone will tell me I’m wrong, but it’s all good; I will just punish them by creating an antagonist based on them in return 🙂

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