G’day, beauties, and welcome to Write What You Know! We’re off on a literary exploration of your brain pan, discovering new lands and uncharted territories, and revisiting old familiar hideouts to glean all the things we DO and DON’T know about writing, the universe and everything.

First things first, let’s be clear about what we mean by ‘write what you know’. For many of us, it’s an old piece of advice that makes our hearts sink…

“Write what you know? But… what if what I know is boring and mundane and not worth writing about? And what if I want to write about outlandish, unfamiliar, exciting, totally made up crazy things?”

Well, there are a couple of things to unpack here:

  1. What you know is NEVER boring. Some of the most interesting, funny, and emotionally resonant stories come from the dullest, pedestrian places (take The Office, for example – you can’t get much more ‘boring’ than a paper sales company based in Slough, right?). We’re here to show you that every single tiny nugget of human knowledge and experience can be mined, melted down into liquid gold, and reformed into a shining, precious piece of writing.
  2. The purpose of WWYK is not to pigeonhole you into solely writing about things you have directly experienced. You can absolutely write about wild and fantastical things that have no basis in reality and/or your own lived experiences, but by using your own emotional knowledge, you can imbue them with truth and humanity…

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves and these are BIG concepts that we’ll be unpacking over the rest of the course. So don’t panic. We’re starting small. We’re starting with what you DO know.

FIVE THINGS YOU KNOW

Grab a scrap of paper, your favourite notebook, or open up a new document and write down five things you know: skills, experiences, talents, knowledge, whatever springs to mind. There are no wrong answers here. Your ‘things’ can be as frivolous or serious as you like, deep or shallow, personal or general, for example:

  • I know how to play Für Elise on the piano (or at least the first bit)
  • I know how to make the best macaroni cheese in town (according to my kids)
  • I have an MA in Shakespeare (and I know that a good 30% of every play is made up of dick jokes)
  • I know how to ride a unicycle and walk on stilts (it’s all in the abs)
  • I know how to get blood stains out of clothing (salt and cold water – or good old saliva if it’s just a spot)

Already we have a pretty varied, intriguing, and at times odd selection of ‘things’ – any of which could be woven into a piece of writing to give a character/situation more depth, or act as the jumping off point for a story. Or maybe they can all be combined, somehow? 

For example: a circus performer who lives next door to a Shakespearean scholar and is slowly driven mad by their neighbour’s repetitive (and terrible) renditions of Für Elise and eventually commits murder while dressed as a clown. Our murder mystery begins with the circus performer frantically trying to clean the bloody evidence off their costume…

It really doesn’t matter if the first things that come to mind seem silly or pointless. We’re all good at something, right? And we all have a particular and unique skill-set that other people don’t have. Maybe it’s something you’ve learned at work, or knowledge passed down through your family, or a little trick you picked up from a friend or partner. Something you can do with your eyes closed. Something you’re really good at. Something you know inside out. Something YOU know really well.

(A brief note: For the purposes of this exercise, try to stick to practical skills and ‘expertise’, no matter how day-to-day (we’ll be looking at more specific, personal experiences in the next lesson).)

GIF of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones saying "I do know some things"

NOW: DO THIS

Make your list of five things, then spend a couple of minutes thinking about each one and adding a little more detail.

  • How did you learn this skill/knowledge?
  • Has this skill/knowledge led to any interesting experiences?
  • What sensory details do you associate with this skill/knowledge?
  • Are there any significant memories attached to this skill/knowledge?
  • What intricate information do you know about your specialist subject that others might not?

Take a little while to scribble down some notes and see where it takes you – we’re not writing stories yet, we’re just zoning in on potential ideas and connections – but you may well find inspiration strikes and begin to get an inkling of how all these little details might help to build up an interesting character or premise…

Make a note of it, and keep adding to your list as and when you think of something new. After all, every day we learn something new, right? And you probably know a lot more than you think.

And that’s it. Easy enough, right? But already you have a unique list of things you can write about with confidence and experience.

So bring your list of five things to the forum and tell us all the things you know!

In the next lesson we’ll be exploring the uniqueness of your own personal experiences and building up your list with a wee dose of real life…

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