Yesterday an agent tweeted, asking if writing what you know really is the route to take. Personally, I think it is.
If you'd asked me years ago (when the movie Never Been Kissed came out), I would have said no, because I didn't understand the value of the statement. I thought it meant to write what you know...like, what you learn in your algebra or physics class (or that time in my chemistry class when I got in a fight with my teacher walked out, threw my book across the hall and punched a wall)...I didn't understand at the time that writing what you know is writing what you've been able to experience.
I let myself off the hook a lot with my writing. Even when I have goals and deadlines I set for myself, if I miss them I don't mind all that much. Why? Because I'm out living my life and without these experiences, I wouldn't be able to articulate what some of my characters go through. In example, my main character right now is in the psych ward of a hospital...which I can speak about knowledgeably because of my experience there two years ago. From there I can build with characters I met there, things I wish would have happened, things that didn't happen, things that confused me, things that seemed so painfully obvious but weren't...things I really wanted to say or think. I can do this with my character because she's not me, she is having a completely different experience....but I know what it's like to be there. I know the anxiety, the fear, the want or need to get out when you've been committed against your will.
I can also talk about my best friend dying when she was only 17 years old, being cheated on, having a sister or two, having crushes, having a dog, being angry, having shitty parents, being hurt, being attacked by a friend's mom, going on adventures, kayaking, living, not wanting to live, being happy, crashing....these are all things I've been through, things I can talk about...and then I can fictionalize with my characters so their experiences aren't mine but I know the way they felt in certain situations because I know the way I felt in similar situations. (This is part of that whole there is more truth in fiction than we'd like to believe, and more lies in memoir than we'd prefer to recognize. See THIS BLOG.)
My best advice to people is to write what you know. If you're writing fiction, don't write your memoir but build off of those experiences, you'll have insight to your character's life, it'll make your novel more believable. Be passionate, don't talk about something you don't know (unless, you know, you want to).
More of this blog is:
Don't feel bad when you don't have time to write, you're just doing research, gaining experience for your next novel or chatper :)