Or maybe I did. When I look back to my notebooks filled with love stories when I was in high school, I was writing what I knew--teenage crushes, basketball, horses, parent conflicts, high school hierarchy. Yet for some reason the "write what you know" saying always irked me. It felt limiting.
How do science fiction writers write about aliens? How do mystery writers write about crime? I was being too literal for my own good.
All writing, regardless of genre, is fueled by emotion and driven by imagination. In my romantic suspense novels, I've written about diamond smuggling, stalkers, and human trafficking--yet I have no criminal record, I swear! But in all of these novels, I've used my personal experiences in character development.
In Riptide, I actually survived a scary experience with a stalker that I then amplified in the story. I used what I knew about fear, about doubting myself, and about trusting again after a trauma when creating the character of Lauren Biltmore. The story unfolded naturally from there.
In Reckless Endangerment, I have never been a war veteran or a war correspondent, but I have survived great loss in my life and know what it's like to start over--and to be scared. I wrote what I knew.
The quote from Jorge Luis Borges strikes a chord with me now as I'm truly mining my personal experiences in my first memoir about surviving the suicide of my husband and rebuilding my life. Some people have questioned my using this experience as "material". The truth is, everything in my life has been material in one way or another--whether writing fiction or non.
People have told me "there's no need to talk about it, it's in the past." Well, I'm a writer. Everything that's happened to me has shaped the way I view the world. I express myself through writing--an artist paints, a songwriter sings. Heartbreak has definitely fueled Taylor Swift's career.
It is true...all of my experiences are resources for my creativity. If I'm writing a sexy scene, a suspenseful one, or a true narrative, they all have one thing in common--they're from the heart. I doubt I'd be able to touch readers' emotions if I lived in an insulated box where I'd experienced no pain or no joy.
So now I get it...the "write what you know" cliche has more to do with the intangible than the tangible, regardless of genre. Perhaps I'd change it now to "write what you feel."
Memoir coming in August 2013