Write What You Know.
I hate Write What You Know. What do we know, though? We know our lives. You can use factors of your life and turn that stale mantra into something helpful. Remember when you were sad that a-billion-times? Use it for a character. Know a shitload about tax law? Tough – I don’t want to read it.
I’m not going to write about sitting on the couch playing games and trying to sleep in on a monday morning that always comes too early.
Write what you’re passionate about, the ideas that consume you when you’re trying to get to sleep at night, or that jump into your head when you’re on the train and just need to get it down.
Before I wrote a short script for one, I didn’t know westerns. Not really. The most of a western I knew was all the overturned tropes that exist in Back to the Future 3, but hadn’t bothered. Didn’t care, and more relevantly, didn’t value westerns. I hadn’t bothered watching them, and couldn’t take the concept of them seriously. Yet, working with the game I was obsessed with at the time (The Movies, by Lionhead), I made one. Sure, it was mostly inspired by a dream (which meant it took even more liberties with the genre), but as far as people that saw it knew, the thing I produced was the product of someone that loved their westerns.
Why did it turn out that way? I cared about what I was writing. Genre knowledge aside, I knew the story I wanted to tell. I cared about it, thought about it, the dialogue and such. I had help, yes, but I wanted to tell that particular story.
When we start on new stories, they’re so fresh and exciting, like a new infatuation. We invest our time in it, and we want to spend a lot of time working on it. Every other idea seems dull and pointless. Sometimes that feeling about an idea lasts past those first few weeks (interchangeable with days or months where applicable). You think about it while you’re doing other things. You imagine the story, the way the characters react to obstacles, and drink up the atmosphere of the story. You’re not just thinking about writing, but you’re borderline obsessing over it. It’s a part of you, and you need to get it out.
Write what gets your blood moving. Write what you wish everyone knew about. Write what scratches that writerly itch that makes you need to tell a story.
Even better – just write what you want.