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I know nothing…

When new writers ask seasoned writers for advice one of the biggest clichés tossed out there is, “Write what you know.” To newbies, this sounds like sage advice.

But it’s really just bullshit.

Okay, maybe not complete bullshit. But it IS too often misunderstood or misinterpreted. The aspiring writer will take that to heart, sit in front of blank Word document and realize, much to their horror, they don’t know anything. Or know very little.

Which is why this tired writer’s advice/cliché needs some explaining.

What you know is not limited to your own personal experience. You don’t have to live it to know it. If a friend tells you a story about a hot sexual encounter they had over the weekend with the guy from AAA who changed their flat tire on the highway, going into vivid detail, you now know it. If you read an article about landscaping the backyard, even if you never actually do it, that information is added to the well we writers dip into for story material. 

My story in the Girls Who Score anthology is about a woman who goes to a fitness boot camp after work. I’ve never been to one of these boot camps.

But my sister has.

I’ve heard many stories from her about these workouts, and how bad her muscles ached afterward. Now and then she would describe the exercises to me, tell me how challenging it was to run up and down the stairs. The information was tucked away in my brain.

Taking that nugget of  inspiration, I hit the internet. Google, Wikipedia, YouTube. I read about boot camps. I watched videos of boot camp classes so I could see for myself — and later describe in my story — the kinds of things that went on in these classes. I searched online for the name brands and styles of workout clothing that I might not otherwise wear.

And then I wrote a story about something I’ve never done in my life.

When I sent the completed story to a friend for feedback, her first comment was about how real the story felt. She could actually see it all happening in the building where she worked. But how can it feel real when I’ve never experienced what I was writing about?

Because it was real for my sister. It was real for the boot camp instructors who posted videos on YouTube as samples of the classes they offer. I may not have had firsthand knowledge of going to a fitness boot camp, but by listening to those who did I knew about it.

And so I could write about it.

If we writers limited ourselves to writing about only those things of which we had personal experience, many of us wouldn’t have much to say. But we have the ability to take other people’s experiences and turn them into something fun to read. We make it ring true for those who’ve lived it and describe it in a reasonable way for those who haven’t.

I’m happy to admit I know nothing. As long as other people do, I will never run out of things to write about.

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