Write What You Know

A few years back, a friend of mine found himself in the office of Tim Keller, a popular pastor in New York City and a prolific author of numerous books on faith and work. He was there as one member of a team who was interviewing Tim as part of an upcoming film.

A pastor and scholar himself, my friend asked Tim a personal question after the interview had concluded: he had been entertaining thoughts of writing a book, but wondered how to package up all of the thoughts and lessons he’d learned over his 30-some years of life. He wondered how Tim Keller would do it – where would he start?

Keller’s response left him a bit disappointed, saying something to the effect of “Son, you can’t write a book – you’re only 30 years old. You don’t have anything to write about yet.

Shocked and a bit disappointed, my friend returned home. He continues to assemble thoughts and life lessons in notebooks and journals strewn about his office, but influenced by Keller’s words that cold January morning, he still hasn’t written a book (although I believe he will some day).

Ever since hearing that story of my friend’s experience, I wonder if what Keller said is really true: even after thirty-some years of life, did my friend really not have anything to write about? Were none of the life lessons he desired to share valid?

That’s the trap many aspiring writers (regardless of age) fall into: we believe that we don’t have anything to write about, or that nobody will listen to what we have to say…and so we throw in the towel. I wonder how many would-be Hemingways and Twains never pursued their dream just because someone else told them they didn’t have anything to say.

Why write in the first place?

Our society has shifted from one of creation to one of consumption. We consume all the time – in our commutes, at work, even when we’re at home with our families. Always consuming.

But few people create anymore. Sure, we go to work and do our thing to contribute to the bottom line, but too few people today spend their lives creating something of immense value and sharing it with the world.

Writing can do that.

Not only is writing an intentional act of bringing value and beauty into the world, but it connects us as well. Who cares if only twenty-seven people read your last Medium post? It only takes one story, one connection, one revelation experienced through written words on a page to make a difference.

Want to be a better writer? Focus on reading.

Stephen King once commented, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So if you really want to write (and to be a better writer), start by reading – a lot.

Read what you like to read, but if you want to become a better writer, don’t be afraid to force yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you like reading about self-improvement, trying reading some history. Love fiction? Pick up a biography.

Read more books than you think are necessary…and then read some more. Your words will thank you for it.

Write What You Know

Perhaps my friend was right to heed the advice of Keller: to write a book about one’s life and the lessons learned does require more age and experience, more battles, more adversity and triumph.

But the same doesn’t hold true for all writing. Maybe you haven’t lived enough life to write a bestselling book, but just because you’re not in your fifties doesn’t mean you can’t write what you know. Through writing, anyone can explore themselves and share the wonderful gift of themselves to the world.

So if you’ve overcome a trial or painful adversity, write about it.

Built a business and want to share your experience and help others striving to do the same? Write about it.

Suffered a loss and want to reach out to others who may be suffering as well? Write about it.

Since the dawn of time, humans have been drawn to story. Stories connect us, inspire us, motivate us. By writing, we connect each other. By bringing our stories into the light, we bring our collective story – the human story – together.

And while you may not have as much experience or wisdom as those gone before you, nobody else on the planet has your exact story or your experience. Only you can share that with the world.

So ignore everyone who says you can’t or you shouldn’t, that you don’t have the experience or that your stories won’t be good enough. Choose to write. Choose to share your unique story with the world that is so desperately waiting to hear it.

Forget what other people say, and just go write what you know.

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