Why It’s Important to Write What You Know

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A while ago I finished writing my first novel after almost a year’s work. It was gruelling and difficult but I did it. I really did it, and I was so proud of myself. The only thing left to do was to read the thing and plan the second draft.

Well, last month I finished reading it and here’s what I thought—

Terrible. Absolutely terrible. I wouldn’t even think about submitting this steaming pile of cow dung to a publisher! It was, at best, a learning experience for me and well worth the time invested. I now know what it means to write a novel. I understand the level of commitment, perseverance and planning that it takes. Firm in this new knowledge, I know that my next attempt will be much better. It might actually be worth sharing with someone.

The problem with my novel was that I wasn’t following one the most essential tenets of writing: write what you know.

I was writing about World War 2 because I was inspired by my grandfather who flew in a bomber squad for 90 missions in the war. That’s an amazing service record and I always revered him for it. I, however, was not in the war, so how can I ever write about it?

Reading through my manuscript it was obvious that I was way out of my depth and pulling things out of my ass to fill in the blanks. That simply will not do. No one is going to read a novel that is so poorly contrived and empty of substance. If you’re going to write about a historical setting, it has to be historically accurate.

The only way for me to pull that off is by doing incredible amounts of research into every aspect of WW2 that applies to my book. This is a time consuming process, and one that I simply do not have the time for right now.

I attempted writing the first page of a second draft the other day. I had everything in my head, but when I started to write it became obvious that I was creating the exact same story. Although my writing has improved, I have no more knowledge of the war. I concluded that it was a hopeless pursuit.

It will just have to be shoved into a drawer and forgotten about. Maybe, when I’m older and established as an author, I’ll have the time to devote to this book. For now, it is far too ambitious for a first novel.

Moving forward, I’ll stick to what I know. My next novel will be something I’m more suited to writing about. It only makes sense.


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