Straight-forward huh? Very unlike me in fact but that is the mood I'm in. The challenge however is NOT to write what you know but to fully examine what this weird trope means. We just accept it like 'show not tell' and ''get rid of all your silly adverbs'. But what does 'write what you know' really mean?
One of my all-time favorite books is The Diamond Age- a Victorian Girls' Primer by Neal Stephenson. It is an amazing look at a future that few could imagine let alone 'know'. In this first steam-punk novel, a cyber-engineer creates an interactive book for a wealthy client's grand-daughter. It gets into the hands of a young girl who lives with her toxic mother and criminal brother in an industrial slum. The story follows three young girls and how the book changes their lives and the way the world works. Neal Stephenson does not live in the far far future. He is not, nor has he ever been, a 12 year old girl. Mark Twain was not a black slave and Shakespeare was not a magician living on an island with his daughter. Yet they all created believable consistent universes.
Perhaps it is in the word 'know'. I don't know what it is like to arrive on a planet not my own, and try to make my way, but I do remember moving every three or four years and having to figure out the school politics that I would be thrust into. I have never lived with a man who has become brain-damaged (as in my novel True) but I have struggled with being in relationship with someone who has altered their being considerably. I have never found a baby on the rocks at Peggy's Cove like my character Winn in The Rock Walker but I have had to make sudden decisions regarding strange happenstance.
Is it possible that we have a treasure chest of wisdom that we arent' aware of? A treasure chest that allows us to understand - to know - anything we might need to know - compassion for the basic human condition that allows us to know what it might be like to have nothing but a soccer ball to befriend on a lonely island, or what living in Biblical times as a woman might entail? I think we do.
Your challenge is to look at five novels or stories and decide what experiences you've had that might have prepared you to be able to write them. If you can't think of five I'll give them to you here:
Gone With the Wind
The Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
The English Patient
Harry Potter and the ....(whichever you want)