Everyone always says, “Write what you know.” Unfortunately, that always left me thinking that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for writing. Because the only thing I’m an expert at is writing. It’s what I’ve done all my life (when I’m not reading). I’ve written how-to manuals, white papers, poems, test scripts, short stories, reports, analytical summaries, and, yes, books.
Then, the other day, I attended a presentation on creative writing and the presenter said, “Write what you’re passionate about. You can always learn what you don’t know.”
That statement not only made more sense to me, it freed me.
So, I made a list of the things I’m passionate about. I then made another list of the topics I’d love to learn more about. Mixing those two lists helps me build my stories. For instance, I’m passionate about alternate healing methods (I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been dabbling all my life, so I do have extensive knowledge regarding herbs, crystals, and techniques like Reiki). If I combine that with my desire to learn more about sailing ships of the 1700’s and 1800’s, I can build a story around a healer at sea. It could be a fantasy, a romance with historical flashbacks, or an historical romance. No matter what genre I select, using this method would allow me to easily combine my passion and my desire to learn more, while creating something interesting and compelling for my readers.
According to the presenter, that’s exactly what happens when you write about your passions. That excitement and enthusiasm that you have for your story comes through in your writing. It ignites something in your readers helping them relate to and feel the emotion you embedded in the tale. And capturing the readers and drawing them into the story world is really what we all want as authors.
Now, this way of writing isn’t for everyone—it’s especially not for those who are more keen on producing quantity rather than quality. That’s because the learning part can sometimes take months. It all depends on just how much knowledge you need to make your story convincing. If the character’s shipboard travel only spans one or two chapters, then you don’t need much knowledge. If, however, it spans the entire book, then the more knowledge you obtain, the easier it is to sprinkle in those tiny details that make your story world believable.
And that’s why most writing teachers or mentors will say, “Write what you know.” Because it’s the little details that can make or break the story world for your readers. If, for instance, you know nothing of sailing ships, it will often come through in the details (or lack thereof). For instance, if you state that your character came on deck to help with the lines or sheets, and then you have him or her fussing with the sails, immediately shows your lack of knowledge. (The terms ‘lines’ and ‘sheets’ refer to the ropes used on a ship.)
Usually, what you’re passionate about is also something you know a lot about. If you’re passionate about horse racing, you usually know a lot about race courses, race horses, and the betting process. This allows you to include the necessary (and correct) terms and details throughout your story. It also lets you infuse your story with all the enthusiasm you have for the sport. This in turn ignites a passion in your reader for your characters and story.
Therefore, if you’re willing to take some extra time when writing your novel, combining your passion with what you want to learn about can help you create an extraordinary book for your readers.