I’ve heard it more times than I care to admit, those people reading my writing, clucking their tongues and saying, “You write what you know.” And I get exasperated, because they’ve probably just read my treatise on the glory of the socialist state, or my poem about a trip to hell, or the story I wrote from the perspective of a girl who lost her virginity at 13. How would I know anything about any of that, having never lived in a socialist state (that I know of), never having been to hell (although maybe Brooklyn qualifies these days), and never having been a girl (my virginity was intact until I was 21, by the way)? Yet they somehow try to force me into the narrative, into the dialogue somehow, as if there is no other way of writing, as if my imagination isn’t good enough (or perhaps too good) to come up with something like that out of thin air.
Give writers more credit. Or at least give some writers more credit. You know the writer who only writes about their daily lives, their troubles, their issues, and their foibles. And that’s okay. Some of my favorite bloggers are those who write that and only that. It’s what they know, and they’re experts at it. If I can’t live inside their skin, it’s a close second to read through their emotional baggage laid out on the screen. I know, too, for so many of those writers, it’s a therapeutic exercise, to get it all out, like focused breathing. In and out. Repeat. Some writers have that gift, to connect the readers with the experience, just as it happened and nothing else.
And I can be like that sometime. I have been like that sometime. Some of my fondest memories have made their way into my writing, and onto my blog, and so many of my followers have connected with that nostalgia that has been sometimes good and sometimes bad, but always educational. In fact, a lot of my first published novel was based on true events. So why do these n’er do wells cluck at me, shaking their heads about writing what I know? Do they judge me based on everything I write, as if my writing is the essence of me, and not merely words I formed from ideas that made their way into my head? Yes, I think that’s it. On some level they do think I approve of a socialist state, and they do believe I’ve been to hell (not Brooklyn), and they stare at me thinking I made an ugly 13 year old girl and why would anyone want to sleep with me back then?
I appreciate the adage, that people do write what they know, but I don’t think it should be taken so literally by those who bandy it about so often. Writing what you know means drawing from your own experience, as well as utilizing your vast imagination to create a series of words on a page. It’s a fascinating process that is always judged by others, especially by those who aren’t writers themselves. And that’s okay because writing as well as reading are conversations between the writer and the reader, a complex tango where one leads while the other follows, but both are always dancing.
So, yes, we all write what we know. How much you believe that, though, depends on your definition.