Knowing What You Write.
I was thinking about one of those cliches we all hear when we're starting out and so much about the art and craft of writing seems couched in the arcane. Like when that first horrifying instance of writer's block creeps in and panic takes hold sending us running to a teacher, or friend, or a local writer's group to admit, "I just don't know what to write!" Frequently the answer we get back is, "Just write what you know."
But what does that mean? Surely no one in the science fiction genre knows what it's like to actually pilot a dimension hopping star cruiser or wield a light saber. Does a crime story author have any experience with 'whacking' one of his rivals? Or does someone inventing characters to populate medieval London really know what every day life there was about?
Of course not! But everyone of these people has been able, with a little (or a lot) of research and speculation, combined with some sincere soul searching, to understand the real essence of a well told story, the emotional makeup of the characters. Arriving at this destination is more a journey within than without.
We have all looked up and wondered what it would be like to traverse the galaxy and how awe inspiring it must be. Few of us have lived any time at all who haven't, at some point, found our selves consumed, if only for a moment, by an anger that has made us consider hurting someone, maybe only emotionally, but still, that can be an even more vicious hurt. What child has never pretended to be a king or princess or swashbuckling swordsman? Who among us has never loved and lost or loved in vain?
Right there is the essence of writing what you know and what your readers will know and relate to. That which kindles your fire or saddens your heart has the emotional possibility to touch your audience.
For a much better expression of this, from a novelist with a proven track record, click Nathan Englander, and remember that writing what you know is knowing what to write.
For other of my favorite links check out my Procrastination Lane list on the upper right of this page. Good advice, places to find ideas and, oh yeah, some of it is just for losing a little time.