THE BLOG

Write What You Know

10/02/2013 03:32 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

We've all heard the old dictum: "Write what you know."

In a very general sense, that's probably true, but there's much more to writing novels than sticking with those areas with which you are familiar by virtue of training or education.

As a physician, forensic psychiatrist and novelist, it would be easy for me to write about medicine, psychiatry and courtrooms -- all of which have been, or are still, part of my life and experiences. But if I limited myself to those areas -- familiar as they may be -- my novels would be one-dimensional and repetitive.

So the logical question is, "If you are going to write about what you know, what exactly do you know?"

We all know far more than we think we do. After all, we've all had experiences of many kinds.

Haven't we all felt lust, envy, love, anger, fear, anxiety or sadness? Haven't we all experienced loss, or a sense of triumph, large or small? Haven't we all quested for something -- no matter how great or inconsequential -- and haven't we all been frightened, disappointed, or felt unsettled, worried, or exhilarated about something?

Hasn't each of us encountered people of every stripe imaginable -- those who are kind, gentle, caring, or those who are mendacious, manipulative, or even evil? Some people are naïve and childish while others are braggadocios or overbearing. And still others can sadden us or fill us with a sense of comfort and well-being.

We've all been to school, to social gatherings, movies, concerts, business or professional meetings. Every one of us has walked through a city or woodland, or played a sport or been carried away by a movie, play, novel, or television program.

We've all had experiences as kids, teens, and as young adults -- and we've all had first loves or felt overwhelmed by circumstances that seemed beyond our control or understanding. We've each encountered illness, threats, and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, guilt or shame -- whether warranted or not.

And at some point in our lives, we all deal with growing older, with the loss of friends, the death of a loved one, and eventually, we must come to the realization that we ourselves are mortal and just passing through this world.

In other words, we all live life.

And that's what we know.

So if you write about what you know, you are writing about a universal experience: life.