Every writer has had that age-old piece of advice drilled into her head: write what you know. We read it in writing magazines, see it on writing-themed blogs, and hear it at conferences. Write what you know, because if you write about things you’ve experienced first-hand, you’ll be able to bring a certain amount of expertise and authenticity to your work. After all, proponents of this writing rule ask, how can you write convincingly about Paris if you’ve never been there (or at the very least done a whole heck of a lot of research)?
Well, as a stay-at-home mom, I have plenty of experience with changing diapers, dodging spit up, and vegging out in front of the movie Cars. That’s what I know. But who would want to read about that? And why would I want to spend any more time than is necessary thinking about dirty diapers?
That’s why maybe it’s not “write what you know” that’s so important. Maybe, instead, it’s “write what you’re passionate about.”
Whenever you write for publication, you want to do two things: 1) produce a high-quality piece of writing and 2) move your readers emotionally. You won’t be able to accomplish either one of those goals if you aren’t excited about the subject of your writing.
I love camp. I went to a Christian camp as a kid and counseled there as a teenager (and am still a counselor and dean at age thirty-two). Camp was the place where I met my husband and got married, made the friends I still consider family, and had the majority of the funniest and most meaningful times of my life. It makes sense that the stories I get inspired to tell at 2 a.m. and the passages I slave over to perfect are about camp.
I don’t mind spending hours a day thinking about the fictional camp my book series centers on because I love the subject. Writing doesn’t feel like work to me because I’m dreaming up a world I’m already crazy about. My books are anywhere from 200 – 450 pages long. That’s a lot of pages to read over and over, trying to fix scenes that just don’t feel right or figuring out where that comma goes. If I didn’t write about something I loved, it would be hard to motivate myself to get through that extra edit. I also wouldn’t care nearly as much if I chose the perfect words to convey how it feels to turn left at the camp gate and pull onto the grounds for the first time that season.
I know how to clean my house and fold clothes while simultaneously entertaining a toddler. I’m actually quite good at it after raising two kids of my own and full-time baby-sitting for two others. But I’m not passionate about it, and I don’t care if anybody else gets drawn into that world. I can’t make anybody laugh or cry over a story about housework, and I’m certainly not interested enough in the topic to want to proof-read even a short article about that topic. But camp—I’d spend weeks working on a chapter about summer camp so that people would be able to experience it through fiction.
We’re all knowledgeable about many things. Our jobs, the places we live, the chores we do. But for writers, it’s our passions we should share with the world through print.
What are you passionate about? What part of yourself do you want to share with the world?