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Write What You Know?

I used to swallow the advice, “Write what you know,” without a second thought. I let it disqualify and discourage me for years.

We’ve all heard it. It’s dangled over our heads for years like the sword of Damocles. As if we don’t have enough self-doubt to handle, this adage gleefully plops more misgivings in our lap and whispers, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

I feel like it’s time to take a closer look — let's see if it is really as infallible as it seems.

When I was a kid, I watched a classic movie from the 1940s called I Remember Mama, which is based on a true story. The main character, a budding teenager named Katrin, loves to write and spends all her spare hours drafting romantic, fantastical stories in her attic. When a famous author reads Katrin’s yarns, she tells Katrin that, while her stories aren’t good, she is talented as a writer — and that she should write what she knows.

This advice seems to change Katrin’s writing career forever. Abandoning her fairy tales, Katrin now writes a short, personal memoir, and gets it published. She gets paid more money for that one story than her family has earned in weeks. And all thanks go to the phrase, “Write what you know.”

Or so it seems.

My young, impressionable mind was impacted deeply by this movie. At the time, I was engrossed in writing a story about a frog who goes on a sailing adventure with his friends and ends up getting shipwrecked. It was very much inspired by E. B. White’s books, and I was in love with the idea.

But the “Write What You Know” rule now glared pitilessly at my amateur fantasy. What did I know about frogs? Or sailing? Or life in general?

I began to believe that I had no right to pen anything but my own (brief and boring) life experiences.

Me, a ten-year-old boy.

My confidence as a writer plummeted ...

(This is an excerpt from my first guest post on The Writing Cooperative. Read the full article here.)

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Joshua Sword

I'm twenty-six and work as a livestream producer by day. I'm highly facetious. It's very hard to take me seriously, a fact that I carefully nurture and protect, because I don't want people calling me Mr. Josh and kissing my hand and handing me scotch or whatever they do in the serious world. I like my own world just fine.

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