It's been said that you should "write about what you know". It's also been said that doing that condemns you to a life of boredom as you'll never grow beyond your current limitations.
Not very helpful, is it?
It's also been said that you should write about what you're passionate about, interested in or otherwise taken by, as you'll spend so much time researching it, writing it and rewriting it, that it had better light your fire, or it will drive you insane. And then again, others say don't tackle a topic you know nothing about, you should write what you know....
And so we go around in ever decreasing circles.
I actually subscribe to the "write what you know" line of thought, but with a bit of a twist. I encourage writers to write about what they know on an emotional level.
Try writing a story that heals YOU. Emotions are the universal language. We all feel the same feelings, we may just experience them in different ways. We all recognize joy, love, peace, anger, resentment, jealousy and fear and when you tap into this universal language with your stories, you speak to the hearts of all readers. As you and your characters go on the roller coaster ride, your readers will go with you, and as you and your characters heal, so too will your readers see a way out for themselves.
Have you ever read a novel that's changed your way of looking at the world? I certainly have. Try this simple tip, and you'll soon be writing stories that change lives as well, including your own.
Write about something that will change your life.
Now by this I don't mean sitting back and thinking, "What would change my life? I know! Divorcing my wife/leaving my job/selling my business and trekking across Africa/buying a ski lodge in Switzerland/running for President". That's not the type of change I'm talking about.
I'm talking about real change - the type of change that starts on the inside and works its way out. And while it may eventually manifest in divorce, resignation, liquidation, traveling, new businesses or political aspirations, it is not the way the change looks on the outside that matters as much as how it looks on the inside. And once you get the inside right, the outside takes care of itself.
As writers of fiction we are constantly living inside our own imaginations, aren't we? True creativity occurs when experience meets imagination. The best way to write stories that resonate with others, that capture them from the first page and don't let them go until the last, is for you, as the writer, to delve into your own basement of emotional experience and retrieve images of universal resonance to deliver to your readers.
JK Rowling said that the Dementors were definitely born of her own depression. The mirror of Erised was her own desperate desire to spend just five more minutes with her own mother, who passed away as she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Harry's search for a family of his own was paralleled by Jo Rowling's desire for the very same thing in her own life.
You need courage to be a fiction writer. Courage to expose your own wounds, courage to go to the places you haven't been before to heal them, and courage to decide you have the strength to go on the journey in the first place.
We have all had our ups and downs in life. And saved somewhere in our unconscious databases, are all the emotions, all the traumas, all the joys and all the images of our lives. As you access these buried emotions, a curious thing will happen. You won't necessarily relive the actual events that happened to you. By drawing on the emotion, and allowing it to be your guide, your imagination will fill in the missing bits, and you'll find yourself retrieving images, scenes and situations that may be very different to your own actual experience. Writing a memoir or autobiography is not the goal. Writing a story with emotional resonance that others will want to read is.
Try this simple exercise: Sit with your feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your thighs, your eyes closed. Take 3 to 5 deep breaths. Now in your mind's eye, see a spotlight shining on a brightly lit stage. Step into the spotlight. Take a few seconds to grow accustomed to the shift in perspective. Now I want you to feel real anger. Feel the heat of it coursing through your body. How dare they? What right do they have? Ask yourself these questions over and over in your mind until you have worked yourself up into a white heat of fury. Now in your mind's eye, allow an image to form around you, the source of your anger. What's happening? Who is there? What can you hear? Coming up with a first sentence, write for 10 minutes on what happens next.
When you've completed this exercise, take a break, or come back tomorrow and try this next exercise. Following exactly the same process, feel forgiveness instead of anger. Allow the sense of true forgiveness to envelope you. Then when you are ready, allow an image to rise in your mind's eye, and coming up with a first sentence, write for 10 minutes.
Did these two pieces of writing connect at all? Did the forgiveness relate to the anger, or vice versa? Don't worry if they didn't. Just know that as you utilize this process when writing a story, you will write a progressive story of great emotional resonance, and in so doing, you will be unconsciously training yourself to experience this journey in your own life.
This is a simple exercise to show you the power of accessing your unconscious through emotion. Once you become accustomed to using this method, you will find all kinds of magical thing occurring to your writing, and all kinds of wonderful healing occurring in your own life.
Writers of non-fiction are bound to an extent by the limitations of science and provable fact. They can speculate, philosophize and hypothesize, but until someone can come up with "proof in a test tube", it is essentially speculation.
When you write a story, with a character confronting their issues, overcoming their obstacles, facing their demons and changing their lives, you are unconsciously writing a guidebook that shows others how to make those changes too. Fiction writers offer real solutions. Real emotional solutions. We may not show you how to fly to the moon, or how to crack the property market and walk off with millions, or how to build a successful e-commerce business from home, but we can show you how to really live your life, how to relate to others, how to relate to yourself, how to heal relationships and how to lead more blissful lives.
And that's pretty terrific, don't you think?