The seed of this post came from a comment I offered to D.B. Jackson’s blog. D-Jack, as I like to call him, was making a point about his characters (specifically whether those characters have real-world analogs). He used the familiar saw, “Write what you know” as something of a launching point… which called to mind some of the formative scenes of my own writing journey. I shared those memories on his posting, but as they were somewhat off-topic to the main line of his article, I thought I would post them here, where they can support a discussion without cluttering what he had going on.
Here, then, is what I wrote:
I had a father who had little truck with fiction, especially… humph… genre fiction… humph… which he quite unkindly referred to as “the pornography of literature.”
Though I benefited (some) from his mantra, “Write, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite…” his other mantra had a chilling effect on my writing. It was the one you mention: “Write what you know.”
What a wonderful thing it was when a certain writing professor of mine addressed that familiar meme, asking, “Don’t you know your own imagination?”
For comparison, imagine living in a room for many years with a locked door. At some point someone suggests you actually try the door… and when you do you discover that it was never locked at all.
It was suddenly OK… like the shuttered windows of my imagination were thrown open. I was free to write. Not that I was good at it, back then. I wrote crap. Sometimes still do. But I was finally free to start working through the slush piles of my brain, eventually getting to the good stuff.