Print

"Write what you know"

By Kelsey Blair

November 17, 2015

“Write what you know” sounds like really terrible advice. It’s the kind of phrase you’d expect to be uttered by a bored guidance counsellor or written on an inspirational card with kittens on the front. It’s also the first piece of advice many creative writing teachers will give you. Naturally, I thought it best to ignore said advice. Little did I know that “writing what I know” would eventually lead me lead me to author two sports novels for children -  Pick and Roll and Ugly Kicks – both published by James Lorimer & Company. Importantly, for the SFU English Blog, it also lead me to dish out my own writing advice. But, first things first …

After finishing my basketball career –  which included five years of varsity women’s basketball at UBC and two years of professional basketball in Sweden – I made three decisions 1 ) I wanted to go back to school 2) I wanted to write 3) I wanted not to be “Kelsey Blair, Basketball Player” for a while. You know what I didn’t want to do? Write about basketball. So, instead I wrote about everything else: pennies, social media, Eve and Lucifer, real estate. And people kept asking me, “Why don’t you write about basketball?” And I kept refraining from yelling, “BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO!” But, after typing “façade” – a real estate keyword – a few too many times, I started asking myself that question too. 

The first thing I discovered when I started writing about sport? I can move a character around a basketball court like there’s no tomorrow. I can easily (and usually with a little bit of joy) describe a drill, the perfectly drawn up play, or what it feels like to grab a defensive rebound. 

The second thing I discovered? “Writing what you know” doesn’t only apply to subject matter. My familiarity with basketball helped me tell a story I was passionate about, but the writing skills I was learning in (grad) school were even more useful. Like essay writing, I mind-mapped my ideas; I created an outline based on the mind-map; I considered how the elements of the outline did (or in some, rather disheartening moments, didn’t) fit together; I moved parts of the story around to find the best structure. When I finally went to write, the words flowed. I finished the first draft in a month. 

As an English PhD student and Teaching Assistant, I am frequently asked to help students improve their writing. My first piece of advice? Conceptualize essay writing as a skill you want to know, one that is applicable for job applications, business communications, emailing your parents, arguing with a celebrity on Twitter, and telling your own stories. 

That way, every time you write, you’ll be writing what you know. 

Kelsey Blair holds a BA in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia, an MA in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto, a Certificate in Film Production from Langara College, and an MA in Theatre Studies from the University of British Columbia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English at Simon Fraser University, generously supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council doctoral fellowship. Her areas of interest include: musical theatre studies, performance studies, the socio-cultural study of sport, and affect theory (often in combination with one another!).