Write what you know. How often have you heard that? How often has it frustrated you?
"I can't write about a black man unless I'm black."
"I can't write about a woman unless I’m a woman."
"I can't write about flying an airplane unless I'm a pilot."
"I can't write about a gay man or a lesbian because I'm not one."
"I can't write about an historic incident until I research it fully and
How much research do you think Leonardo da Vinci did before he painted The Last Supper? Of course he knew the story, from the Bible.
But there are no physical descriptions of that scene or those individuals anywhere in any credible book.
Da Vinci knew The Last Supper. He knew it as well as if not better than any biblical source written decades after the fact. He knew it in his heart. Not in his head, which would have cautioned him against attempting anything so out of his experience, but in his heart. He had lived the emotions he represented and those emotions are the only truth in that masterful painting.
So you've never experienced the discrimination a black woman or gay man might have felt? Have you ever been attacked for who you are? Have you ever been denied what you believed was rightfully yours? Have you ever felt your personhood and humanity under attack?
No? Think back to your childhood. Think back to the emotions of childhood, to the bullies in the schoolyard, to the adults who criticized you.
Do more than think back. Relive and re-experience those emotions. You have lived some of those same emotions you feel you dare not describe in someone else.
Accept the dare. Step up to the challenge. You owe it to yourself to at least try. For if any character — however far removed from your life and lifestyle -- comes to you and demands that his or her story be told through you, then you can only trust that all you need lies within you.
Of course, research may be required. Remember, though, that unless you are writing a dry recitation of history, it's the emotions that will touch your readers, that will affect them, that will move them to deeper places within themselves. And we all -- whether we’re black, white, green or purple -- draw from the same pool of emotions.
If you can give yourself permission to tap into that pool within you, you will always write what you know. For all you need to know lies within you.
Now. At this moment.
Write what you know -- what you know in your deepest heart. Write your fire. Write your truth.
The only knowledge that’s unique to you is the knowledge of your heart, the wisdom of your soul, the force of your passion. Write from those places that no one else can and you will touch readers in ways that no one else can.
Go ahead and write what you know...if you dare.
~ from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson