I have loved writing stories since I was a child. I grew up writing short plays for the neighborhood kids and typing up my dreams and story ideas on my family’s computer. Now I am about to graduate college with a Creative Writing major this spring. Writing is something I have been doing my whole life—it is one of my deepest passions. Despite this, I still sometimes find it difficult to think of something to write.
One of my creative writing professors at EIU, Dr. Daiva Markelis, said something in my first writing class with her that stuck with me. “Write what you know.” This advice sounds simple enough, and maybe even a little boring (because a lot of people like to use writing as a tool to explore new worlds and be someone else for a bit). But writing what you know is one of the best pieces of advice I have been given in college.
Why? Because while maybe I don’t know from personal experience what it is like to see ghosts or have super powers or love someone of the same sex or unravel a murder mystery or be profiled as a minority, I know emotions and human behaviors from experience, interactions, and observation. Arguably, the most important parts of a story are the characters’ emotions and motivations; they give a depth to the characters that sucks readers in. Good, real, human emotions and motivations make your characters and stories believable and entertaining to read.
This is not to say nobody should ever write about topics they don’t personally know about. If that was the case, we would not have captivating fantasy novels like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or thrilling science fiction novels like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Of course, the writers have never been in the situations they write about or seen these situations played out, but they incorporated knowledge they did know, as well as learned more through research, and were able to create these classic stories we all know today.
So next time you are stuck in a writer’s block, grab hold of that strong emotion you are feeling or think of that interesting person you saw on the street and begin writing with those emotions and motivations in mind. You may be surprised where those ideas can take you, or what better ideas they spark instead.
Bluestem Assistant Editor