Write what you know? Or write what you *want* to know?

The old adage in writing is “write what you know,” and while I think there’s plenty of truth in that, I’ve found that lately, my writing projects have steered me away from areas of deep knowledge and experience. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think within every story there are emotional truths that surpass the particulars and speak to universal experiences. But when students ask me how I decide what to write about, more often than not lately it’s guided by my interests.

What do I want to know better? What do I want to explore more deeply?

If you’re intensely curious about something, chances are that intense curiosity will carry you through the ups and downs of the writing, the research, the revision, etc. You want to know more, and you’re willing to put in the time and effort to get there.

As I write this, it’s past my bedtime and the NBA Finals are on TV. A few years ago, I was just starting to become immersed in the world of college basketball after moving to Cincinnati. I loved everything about it, and at the same time, realized how much I didn’t know. It was all still so new, and yet a lot of the excitement came precisely from the newness. When you’re as old as me (okay, mid-thirties), there’s a lot that isn’t new. So much is familiar that when something new comes into your life, it can be exciting. Thrilling, really. At least, that was the case with my hard fall for basketball.

By the end of my second year following my local college basketball team, I was hooked. Deeply, deeply hooked. And then devastated. It all ended so fast! I was bereft. I didn’t know where I could put all that energy I’d put into following my team . . . unless. . . .

That’s how my work-in-progress was born. A project that would involve a deep dive into the world of basketball. Something I did not know enough about to write a book . . . yet. All of the basketball movies and books, staying up late for the NBA Draft, etc. I wanted to soak in every bit of it. I’m still soaking in every bit of it. Honestly, I think I pulled an abdominal muscle the other day leaping off the couch in excitement when I learned some breaking news about a new recruit. (Downside of getting old, I know.)

The truth is, it’s a long process, writing a book. You need something to carry you past the excitement of the early stages of a first draft and through the muddled middle, the ending that you’re not quite sure of, and all the revisions that follow. So you might as well write about something you know . . . enough, but that you want to know better.

 

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