Is ‘Write What You Know’ Blocking You From Your Writing Goals?

I think it’s a disservice when phrases make the rounds without proper context.

I experienced this when I was aggressively pursuing my fitness goals.  I’m pretty methodical, and don’t deviate from what I know works: lift weights, sprint, eat real food (but not too much).  But, I have friends on fitness forums/blogs confused by every “new” thing they hear on well-meaning news outlets and reality shows.  Things like:

“Good carbs, bad carbs”

“Say NO to Cardio”

“Calories in, Calories out”

Within the fitness community, these phrases have context and when used and understood correctly, can help you achieve your physical fitness goals.  Otherwise, these phrases can seem vague, meaningless, or contradictory and ultimately, can frustrate someone who really wants to achieve lasting physical changes.

Write What You Know.

I know most writers treat the phrase “Write what you know” cautiously, and have learned to deal with it in their own way, whether through modifying it, defining it, or defying it.  I know writers who have defined the phrase broadly, such as researching more or tapping in to another person’s experience.  I know others who have defied it by saying simply, “Just Write”.  I kinda did all three when I chose to rephrase it as: “Write what you can dream.”

The crux of the statement that may hinder anyone outside of the writing community from taking that leap of faith into the writing world is that pesky “know”.  But once you can overcome the limits you place on your definition of the word “know”, you will begin to feel a sense of freedom.  Almost like you’ve given yourself permission to write as freely as you want to.  I know I felt that way.  I have often thought, “well, what’s the point in writing about that because I don’t know everything there is to know about it?”  Once I changed my hangup around the word “know” and started believing in “write what I can dream,” my motivation and drive to accomplish my writing goal increased exponentially.

I will be talking more about inspiration sometime soon, but when it comes to “finding inspiration” (or what I call, filling up my dream well), I think Stephen King said it best: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  The more stories you consume the more fodder your subconscious has to work with.  Snippets of your everyday will form great landscapes and endless worlds.  All you have to do is feed your muses.  Keep them entertained and eventually, they will deign to give you a few golden threads you can follow as you navigate your writing path.

SO TELL ME: What are some writerly phrases that you think send mixed signals outside of a writing community?  Are there phrases that you have redefined along your writing journey that inspires you better? Thank you for commenting


The Will to Finish

One of my previous managers gave me this quote: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare” (Juma Ikangaa).  I fully agree with that statement, along with another aphorism that is similar to it: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  But what if “winning” is not necessarily the objective, and depending on the circumstance, the “winning”, “do or die” mentality can do more harm than good?  What if instead we replace the “will to win” with “the will to finish”?

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are motivated by competition (myself included).   Competition can be helpful when it comes to feats of strength or actual arenas where skill is matched with skill, and for the most part, a specific “winner” can be chosen from the pack.

However, in most life matters, the true competition is not against another person, but against myself.  I can see how another person is doing in their weight loss goal, and see if they are outpacing me.  I can see how far along another person is on their word counts, or how many books they have published.  I can see who among my peers are beating their sales goals.  I can learn from them, be inspired by them, and seek to emulate them.  But, the real measure of success and progress should be, and is, against myself: how am I progressing toward my (fitness/writing/business/fill-in-the-blank) goals?

Writing, for me, boils down to me sitting down in front of my keyboard (or Moleskine), and that’s it.  I learn through my struggles and find people* who are supportive and engaging to carry me through the “woe is me” times.  (For the record, those times have been fewer and farther in between; go me!)  It really make no sense to compare myself with another writer.  Besides, another writer’s success does not diminish my own potential for success; neither are their failures my failures.

The only true failure in these real life matters is not finishing, especially because the only real competitors are me and myself (and sometimes, I).  I had my own starting point and my own goals.  Anyone is welcome to observe me, jeer me, or cheer me, as I plod along, but know that my race, my journey is my own competition of one.

Ursula Le Guin said: “It is good to have an end to journey towards, but is the journey that matters in the end.” At the end of the day, the truly remarkable people are not remarkable because they won.  They are remarkable because they attained their goal (despite whatever obstacles were in their way).  They finished and arrived at their specific milestone, and then continued on their path.  They understood that “it is the journey not the arrival that matters.”

And, one day I will find myself at the “finish” of one writing journey, only to prepare myself another one.  Can’t wait.