Sunday Style: Write what you know

1159418_key_x_from_vintage_typewriterThis week I finished a novel, The Outside World, by Tova Mirvis. (Great book!) I first heard of Tova because a hilarious short story of hers, Apologies, was published in this month’s issue of Brain, Child. The Outside World is about a young, Jewish Orthodox woman who marries and moves to Memphis, Tennessee with her spouse. I did a little research and found out that Tova Mirvis is from Memphis. And, she grew up as modern Orthodox. While the story doesn’t at all mirror Tova’s own life, her perspective as an Orthodox Jewish woman surely plays a part in what she wrote.

Reading this was an “ah-ha” moment for me. Or, an affirmation of sorts. In recent years I’ve realized that the most powerful things for me to write come from my own experience, or from my life…from what I know. For a long time I thought writing should be more difficult. But when it’s what I know, it’s not difficult.

I did a Google search for the phrase “Write what you know.” Many blogging writers said they thought that these words of advice are only for beginning writers (ouch!), that it limits writers, and that it’s misleading. But, I disagree and I found one blogger who sees it like I do. In her blog, Michelle says:

So how do writers write what they know? They infuse their stories with all of the emotions, knowledge, and life that they’ve experienced and use all of it to build their characters and storyworlds into incredible books that suck their readers into a new reality…J.K. Rowling was certainly never a magical teenage boy fighting a weird, snake-looking wizard…but she probably knows what it feels like to be terrified, excited, helpless, alone…to find friends who love you, fight for something you want, and maybe have things turn out great in the end.

To write what you know, you need to write about something you care about, something that touches you. That connection you have to your subject will come through in your work.

Exactly! Writing what I know doesn’t mean that the novel or non-fiction that I write will be about a mini-van driving woman with brown hair, brown eyes, two sons, and a husband who lives in the Pacific Northwest. What I know and what I write is a compilation of the sights, sounds, moments, and relationships in my life. They make it on the page in some way, shape or form.

Bottom line, I believe that writing what you know helps keep your writing real and, ultimately, allows readers to connect with your writing. Now that is advice that I’m happy to follow.

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2 Responses to Sunday Style: Write what you know

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is so true, Liz! And timely for me…just this morning I was asked by a friend why I like to write nonfiction more than fiction, and I said it was because (at least with personal essays) I could just talk about myself and it wasn’t as stressful. 🙂 But, really, fiction shouldn’t be stressful either. If I focus on what I know, then I can gradually ease out into the unknown. Thanks for reflecting on this today!

  2. Luci says:

    Well said, Liz. I don’t think I could really articulate, well enough anyway, if i didn’t know. I guess with practice I could but its a great starting (and ending!) point for any writer.

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