Friday, February 20, 2009

Guest Blog: Write What You Know...If You Dare

Write What You Know...If You Dare
by Mark David Gerson

Write what you know. How often have you heard that? How often has it frustrated you?

"I can't write about a black man unless I'm black."

"I can't write about a woman unless I’m a woman."

"I can't write about flying an airplane unless I'm a pilot."

"I can't write about an historic incident until I research it fully and

How much research do you think Leonardo da Vinci did before he painted The Last Supper? Of course he knew the story, from the Bible.

But there are no physical descriptions of that scene or those individuals anywhere in any credible book.

Da Vinci knew The Last Supper. He knew it as well as if not better than any biblical source written decades after the fact. He knew it in his heart. Not in his head, which would have cautioned him against attempting anything so out of his experience, but in his heart. He had lived the emotions he represented and those emotions are the only truth in that masterful painting.

So you've never experienced the discrimination a black woman might have felt? Have you ever been attacked for who you are? Have you ever been denied what you believed was rightfully yours? Have you ever felt your personhood and humanity under attack?

No? Think back to your childhood. Think back to the emotions of childhood, to the bullies in the schoolyard, to the adults who criticized you.

Do more than think back. Relive and re-experience those emotions. You have lived some of those same emotions you feel you dare not describe in someone else.

Accept the dare. Step up to the challenge. You owe it to yourself to at least try. For if any character — however far removed from your life and lifestyle — comes to you and demands that his or her story be told through you, then you can only trust that all you need lies within you.

Of course, research may be required. Remember, though, that unless you are writing a dry recitation of history, it's the emotions that will touch your readers, that will affect them, that will move them to deeper places within themselves. And we all — whether we’re black, white, green or purple — draw from the same pool of emotions.

If you can give yourself permission to tap into that pool within you, you will always write what you know. For all you need to know lies within you.

Now. At this moment.

Write what you know -- what you know in your deepest heart. Write your fire. Write your truth.

The only knowledge that’s unique to you is the knowledge of your heart, the wisdom of your soul, the force of your passion. Write from those places that no one else can and you will touch readers in ways that no one else can.

Go ahead and write what you know...if you dare.

~ adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Mark David Gerson has led writing workshops and coached writers at all levels for more than 15 years in the U.S. and Canada. Author of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and of the five-time award-winning novel, The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, Mark David has also recorded The Voice of the Muse Companion, a 2-CD set of guided meditations for writers. His blog of tools, tips and inspiration for writers is at For more information and to join Mark David's mailing list, visit Mark David’s books are available at selected U.S. bookstores and online through and Click here

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Jenn Nixon said...

Great post!

I never have those hang ups myself, mostly because if I'm writing about something I don't know well...I do my research.

I'm also a tom boy, so that helps out with the male POV. lol

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful advice! I'm setting my new book in Zimbabwe--never been there but I already love it! But I keep doubting my ability to do this. I'm going to print out this post and keep it! Thanks so much!