Everyone always says ‘write what you know’, and its sturdy advice. However, numerous people I know, in the midst of writing about an experience they have had, have also said the following:
‘But that’s not how it happened!’
‘Why isn’t this working? Its not coming across how I want to!’
And it is at this point you should lower your pen and take five.
Writing ‘what you know’ basically means taking inspiration from real life and drawing inspiration from the people you know and your environment. A lot of people, including myself, have the need in them to write about experiences that are personal to them. Something happened and you need to express it, because it is both unique to you and also universal to mankind. That’s what makes great writing, right?
Absolutely right! But it doesn’t have to be exactly how it happened, with the exact same people saying the exact same things. In life we have the luxury of time, situations play out over hours, days, months and maybe even years. In a film/play/tv episode we are constricted by time. Your story can’t take that long to develop.
‘So I’ll just cut out the boring bits, or skip ahead in time’
In some instances this may work, but how many times can you skip forward and keep it interesting? What happens if you’re writing about an issue that’s on going? The answer is simply this – write about what you know in essence, but not completely. Situations in life are rarely formed into a three act structure, they might not have a climax or resolution. Don’t write exactly what happened. Write something that is inspired by what happened. Then mould it. Make it work for you.
If you stick to everything exactly as it is, it will become very frustrating very quickly. Your story might be fun to read, but does it go anywhere? Does it say anything? Don’t get caught up on the details.
That’s what’s fun about writing, you have artistic license. Your characters can do ANYTHING. Don’t limit them and don’t limit your writing.