The Writer's Life,  Writing Basics

Be Brave! Write About Something Beyond Your Experiences

Dear Writer – Monday, May 3, 2021

You may have heard it 100 times – “Write what you know.” To many that means to write from your own experiences.

My first true exposure to this concept was the reaction of some readers to a poem written in reaction to a picture. One person commented specifically that she was glad I had come to terms with my abuse. A couple of others agreed and applauded my “escape.” Most recently I was raked over the coals by readers who believed that my “white privilege” did not allow me to write about finding a voice and standing up for myself.

I am grateful to say that I have not been the recipient of abuse. In fact, I have not experienced much of what I write about, but I can be empathetic with those who have, and by writing about their experience, I can offer an insight into the character I give the experience to and how he or she deals with that experience.

It’s kind of like the high school student actor who pulled a monologue about being a murderer. “I’ve never murdered anyone. How can I begin to portray a person who is on trial for murder?”

I asked the actor if they had ever had a mosquito land on their arm or leg and slapped at that insect with the vengeance to kill.

“Well, yeah.”

“Transfer that feeling onto the character you were supposed to have murdered. They were the mosquito on your arm.”

I’ve written about being left in the middle of nowhere by a supposed boyfriend. I’ve written about being drunk and homeless. I’ve written about abuse. I write these things, not because I have experienced them, but because I want to understand the struggles of others and share that understanding with my readers.

One of the exercises that I use to write outside my own personal experience is to write for 10 – 15 minutes to a prompt. In writing, I write whatever pops into my head. It has, at times, left me shaking my head and wondering where that piece came from. Especially if it is something totally not my focus or style.

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