When I started writing fiction, I had no idea what I was doing. Like most new and fledgling writers, I told the story I wanted to tell in my own way whilst trying to be clever and original. As I got started, I thought it might be worth seeking out some advice—or, at least, guidance—on how to go about writing well. I wanted to be proud of what I wrote.
As with any skill, writing fiction to a good standard means undertaking a learning curve. I had to start from base ability level and then learn the skills to hone my craft.
The first piece of advice I saw was: write what you know. I immediately questioned this. Frank Herbert had not been to an alien desert planet populated by giant worms, yet he wrote Dune. Anne Rice had not interviewed a three-hundred-year-old vampire, but she could write a fictional interview with one. How was it that I had to write only what I knew, yet others could imagine strange and exciting new things?
Looking into the advice, however, meant not taking it at face value. Frank Herbert was on location researching sand dunes, with only sand to look at, when he came up with the idea for Dune. Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire—where a vampire recounts a tale that leads to the death of his adopted daughter—after her own child had died. When beginning these novels, the authors did not know everything about them, but they initially came from a place of reality.
Perhaps the phrasing of the guidance is at fault. Instead of writing what you know, I would suggest the advice should be: know what you write. That frees you to create anything, yet means you should also research and create with depth instead of just glossing over the surface.
In this class I will be addressing three key aspects of creating fiction: inspiration, experimentation, and culmination. Each lesson will contain an assignment, but not a simple by-the-numbers routine. You will be writing what you know, but what you know is a lot more than what you think you know. You will need a notepad and a pen.
Writing what you know should not limit your scope as a writer, but instead empower you to write more and better. It is entirely dependent on what you know, but that is a variable you can change. I have written this Creating Fiction class to help you see creating fiction from a new angle, no matter your experience or skill level as a writer.
Know what you write, and let what you write be fantastic.
Hermann Ebbinghaus, Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology
Emily Temple, Should You Write What You Know? 31 Authors Weigh In, Lithub, 7 February 2018
Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, The Road to Dune
Stuart Husband, Anne Rice: interview with the vampire writer, The Telegraph, 2 November 2008