One of the most common pieces of advice I find handed out to writers who are still beginning to develop their craft is to write what you know. I have never liked it. True, it is a well-meaning piece of advice, but it is also mostly wrong. People take the term “What we know” as knowledge and experience. While both are critical to a nonfiction writer, for fiction, writing only what we know can quickly become counterproductive.
My first published book was Science Fiction. A captain and crew on a suicide mission that no one realized until it’s almost too late. Did I have experience as a spaceship captain? No. Suicide missions? Unlikely. However, I did watch plenty of science fiction flicks in my time. Star Trek, Star Wars, Serenity, 2001, Interstellar, BSG (Battlestar Galactica for those not in-the-know) And, of course, countless books such as: War of The Worlds, Ringworld, Dune, A Princess of Mars, Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Battlefield Earth, The Martian and many many more.
Did writing a space adventure require experience running a ship in space? Not at all, but I have enjoyed stories throughout the years in every media you can name. Written, Drawn, Animated, Recorded, Live-Acted, Movies, Television, Online, etc., etc., etc… The greatest source of experience I discovered is the best one of all: Imagined. When you write, what’s the difference between having lived a story in your imagination opposed to living it in real life?
When it comes to fiction? None.
One of my favorite scifi shows is Doctor Who. There’s a phrase you get to hear repeated throughout the series and is often said when someone first enters the TARDIS (A ship that looks like an old police box not much larger than a shower.) As a new person enters, they find themselves – not in a confined space with barely any room to move, but in a massive control room to a ship full of corridors, pathways, distant rooms…and a pool. 🙂
The phrase? “It’s bigger on the inside.”
That’s the most important thing to realize about being a writer. We’re bigger on the inside. What we imagine is vast and endless. The physical world holds a mere fraction of possibilities in comparison to what we create inside ourselves. You can take your life experiences as inspiration, but with the right spark, you can create the most amazing characters that will remain with you and your readers for years to come.
The stories you create within come from an endless universe whose moment of creation takes place the moment inspiration strikes. The spark of an idea forms behind your eyes, producing magical realms few others can fathom.
Let’s not hold in all that magic. The world outside needs it. Share the characters you love. Share the characters you love to hate. Write the adventures you see in your dreams. Feel the magic at your fingertips and let it pour out with words and passion.
So the next time you are advised to only write what you know, just smile and accept the fact that what you know expands beyond the limits of the world outside your head. Enjoy that little secret and restrain a chuckle as you take the helm of your own starship, setting course for endless adventure.