A piece of advice frequently offered to writers.
And one that caused me an awful lot of problems. For a considerable time.
A blameless career in local government is not often the material of which novels are made. And the bits that were not blameless were far too confidential ever to be used in a book.
So where did that leave me? Confused, dear reader.
The advice is kindly meant and possibly bound up with the idea that all author's first books are largely autobiographical.
But - when you think about it, the advice really does not hold that much water. Crime writers don't rob banks and commit murder - at least, not the ones I know. Fantasy writers do not live in a world populated with strange and fairy creatures. Well they do, but it's all in their head, and probably best not go there.
Of course, if you are an expert on something, or live an exciting life that gives you a whole heap of experience to draw on, then that's great. But the rest of us?
You do not have to write only what you know. It took me a while to work that one out. You can substitute ‘knowing’ with research, which is one way round the problem, and a delightful and much praised source of procrastination beloved by authors everywhere. But even that only gets you so far.
That’s where imagination comes in. But also ‘knowing’ on a different level. You may not ‘know’ how it feels to be pursued by a serial killer, but you probably know about being afraid – even if it is only for a few moments on a fairground ride. Emotions. We can all call them up. Love, hate, embarrassment, longing, loss.
So - I’ve given up grieving over the fact that I don’t take this advice. I do grieve over the time spent in the past grieving over it though.
For me, now, it’s the story that counts. I worry about getting facts right – and the very worst kind of worry is about the things you don’t know you don’t know – think about it.
The book has to entertain, and preferably keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
But if I haven’t actually lived it?
These days, I try not to let that worry me.