Since starting my journey as a budding freelance writer, I’ve poured over writing blog after writing blog in order to gain new knowledge. Almost without fail, each one has at least once recommended that you write what you know.
I’d always thought that it appeared to be sound advice, and as most of my writing is about being an expat (which I am) and living in the Netherlands (which I do), I figured I already followed that advice and could move on.
But recently, I’ve been working on a submission for Cynic Online Magazine’s 7th annual Not-So-Cynical Christmas writing contest. I wanted to enter again this year as I won an honorable mention in 2009 and figured my chances would be far greater after a year’s worth of writing experience, right? Well, we shall see later this month.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand…
The contest calls for gushy, sentimental, what-Christmas-really-means pieces and last year, I wrote about what I knew: a first Christmas away from family in a new country. But what was I going to write about this year? I love Christmas, but there were no other real-life stories I could think of.
So I began thinking of the submissions that won last year’s contest and what they were about. I tried to delve deep into my imagination and come up with a story that would be a sure-fire winner. And the harder I thought, the fewer ideas came to mind. The ones that did sounded hollow and contrived. They were!
Just when I needed it the most, that piece of advice resurfaced… write what you know.
Again, I dug deep into my imagination, but this time it wasn’t to concoct a Christmas fable. It was to recall my own childhood and Christmases past.
Before I knew it, I found myself rushing to my laptop, tearing open a new Word document and pounding away at the keys. Suddenly, I had 1,000 words. Then 2,000. And then just shy of 3,000. In what seemed like no time at all.
Who knows how it will do in this year’s contest, but I feel wonderful about my work on this story and regardless of whether it wins first prize or comes home empty-handed, I am more proud of this story than I’ve been of anything I’ve written in months!
So if you hold onto only one piece of writing advice, let it be this: write what you know.
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