There’s an old writing rule that probably most of us have heard.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
What exactly does that mean? And is it true?
I can honestly say that I use real life knowledge and experiences in my writing all the time. I have those moments when life just stops for a second when the writer in me just screams, “Write this down!”
When I was younger, I had a writing journal that I took with me everywhere. I’d write down everything that I thought might help me later. Descriptions of scary looking trees, cool looking buildings, even conversations I overheard (until my siblings learned to make sure I didn’t have a pen and paper when they were talking. Love you guys!)
How does that carry over into my writing?
Two years ago, I was having trouble with a scene where I had a character who needed a trying personal trail while locked in a room. I couldn’t figure out how to make that room more challenging, until I went to live with my grandparents for a summer. While there, I had a mouse jump in my bed. Not once, but twice. After throwing the darn thing out, it jumped right back in!
After the initial shock (of rodent sleeping partners), I realized that this was exactly what I was looking for. I had a few rats jump into her bed and voila!
“The sound of scratching sounded from overhead and Kanya froze. The scraping increased in pitch before the creatures above her scurried across the ceiling toward the wall. Kanya trembled. The sound intensified into a frenzy and the animals squeaked as though preparing for the kill. When a creature appeared from the corner of the room, Kanya jerked back and gasped as pain caused lights to dance before her eyes. Once again, she lost consciousness, but only for a few seconds. When she awoke, she couldn’t hear anything.
Kanya took a deep breath. She would live through this. A strange sensation hit her face, like a tiny gust of wind blowing from narrow nostrils. Bright, beady eyes stared back at her and she screamed and scrambled backwards, throwing herself from the bed onto the floor.
The creatures danced up and down on the bed, only pausing to sniff the blood-covered sheets. Kanya curled up in the corner, pulled her knees up against her chin and leaned against the wall, ignoring the sting of the cold and the throbbing in her back. One by one the rats joined her, cuddling up to her body, feeding off of her warmth.”
For me, anything I experience or see is fair game. Is there an exception to the rule?
A very resounding YES.
I am very careful when it comes to using people as inspiration. Why? First off, there is a chance that whoever inspires me may read whatever I write later. They may or may not appreciate the way that I portray them, and I don’t want to offend anyone.
Also, I am a nurse. I have very strict HIPAA regulations, stating that I am under federal law to protect the privacy of my patients. So putting them in a story would not be appropriate. However, I have used experiences when it’s universal, something that any nurse might experience, or understand. One such instance: feeding.
Any nurse (or care provider) will understand the concern and desperation that might occur when a patient doesn’t do what they’re supposed to. It’s especially heartbreaking when they don’t eat, wasting away into nothing. That’s not based off of a particular resident, it’s based off of the nursing experience. It’s a fine line, I know, but one that I believe needs distinction.
Here’s a few snippets from a WIP based on that feeling:
“In the opposite corner, Temar held Rose in her arms and rocked her back and forth. Just the sight made Aydra want to cry. Rose was only a few years younger than Cassie, but she reminded Aydra of an infant. Her skin hung loosely on her body and her eyes sunk in their sockets. They’d watched this girl wither away since Temar brought her to them. Temar met Aydra’s gaze and shook her head. It’d been another long day.”
"Temar held the thin girl in her lap, and through the noise of the children, Larzo focused on her pleas.
“Open your mouth, Rose.” Temar held a spoonful to the girl’s mouth. “Just a bite.” Rose held her lips together tightly and shook her head. The soup slid off of the spoon and down Rose’s chin. Larzo glanced over at Aydra, who watched Temar and Rose as well.
Does she ever eat?
Aydra gave a slight jump in her chair before staring over at Larzo. She paused before giving the faintest shake of her head.”
Sometimes I think that writers have the opportunity to live their experiences twice. Once in person, and again when recording it.
What about you? What experiences have given you inspiration for your stories?