Writing what you know is great advice. It is a good place to start. It saves you hours of research and it gives you confidence that shows in your writing. It just makes sense.
If you are a runner and you write about your protagonist finishing a difficult race, you will be able to describe the race from your unique viewpoint. Only you can describe the pounding of your feet, the racing of your heart, the way your knees jar and the rattle in your skull as you run downhill, but what if you get bored? You know this stuff already and if you are bored, your reader is even more bored.
Even though this is your dream job, it is still a job with goals and deadlines. You write your 500 words a day, or a chapter or a page. Whatever your goal was you do it, but then it gets too easy. And that is usually your first clue. Be careful when you can predict your words or your story. Your writing should surprise you. Especially you. Like a runner, you have to change pace, stretch yourself, and try out new routes.
How do you fix this?
If it isn’t surprising, try writing about what matters to you instead of writing what you know.
How is that different to writing what you know?
Writing about what matters forces you into new territory. It means you are thinking about stuff that has affected you or changed your mind. It gives you the opportunity to look at a situation with new eyes. Writing about something that matters might mean you need to do new research. You will have to explore new viewpoints or work harder at getting it right. If you care about the topic, the research will not be a chore. If you care about your story, you will type like a writer possessed.
How do you get back there? How do you shake things up a bit? How do you remind yourself why your story matters?
- Write about emotions and motivations. Think about the emotions of your characters and why this matters to them. Make sure their motivations and goals are strong enough to drive a story.
- Make use of writing prompts. Especially the ones that don’t necessarily interest you. Experiment with these and break out of what you think you know. Try a different viewpoint. Use your imagination.
- Watch the news. Find a topic that is close to your heart. Maybe a news report really got to you? Write about it. That fire will be with you most of the time.
Trying these things will help you look at your too familiar story from a new angle. That is why the second suggestion is so good. A daily writing prompt gives you space to explore and experiment with your writing. It is not so easy to drop something you have been working for months and do something different, but a prompt a day, just like the apple, will make you a better and healthier writer.
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.
by Mia Botha
Looking for extra inspiration with prompts? Read:
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