Howdy, howdy! I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween, and got tons of candy (whether you went trick or treating yourself or stole it from your kids/nieces/nephews/siblings/etc.). Today, I want to ramble a little bit about some common writing advice that I really disagree with. If you’re a writer, chances are that you’ve heard this statement at least once (and probably way more than that): write what you know. On the surface, it sounds like common sense. If you don’t know about something, how can you write about it? But so many people take it too literally.
On the one hand, some people argue that the saying refers to emotions. We’ve all experienced love and hate and happiness and anger, so our characters should too. I agree with that reading of it to a point. Characters need to express multiple emotions in order to be well-rounded. My issue with this explanation is that we all experience and express our emotions differently, so our characters should too. For instance, when I rage, I stew in my own thoughts and plot revenge. I don’t really know what people who scream and cuss and break things are thinking or feeling. Does that mean I should only write characters who stew? No. It just means that I have to work a little harder to understand and flesh out my characters who are screamers.
On the other hand, there are the people who think writing what they know means writing about things they’ve done or stuff that’s happened to them. I actually started writing Garnets and Guardians because people kept telling me to write what I know. I know about spending your childhood in and out of the hospital. But honestly, that’s boring, so I threw in demons and references to different mythologies and a protagonist with a disease that’s fairly different from my own. These are things that I knew little to nothing about. Hell, my protagonist can walk. I don’t even remember what walking feels like. Does any of this mean I shouldn’t write about these things? No. It simply means I have to study up on them. Writers enjoy research (supposedly). It’s half the fun of writing.
I guess if I were to rewrite the quote, I’d probably go with something like “write what excites you.” Not in a porny way, though. What I mean is, if you’re super interested in writing about a guy who has to fight ice giants while climbing Mt. Everest, but you have no idea what mountain climbing entails, go out and learn about it. Sure, once you learn about it, you know it, and thus the original quote applies, but it’s still up to you to study these things in the first place. If it drives you to research something, it’s worth writing, even if you have zero experience with it. So, write what you want. Learn things. Don’t limit yourself just because you’re inexperienced with something.
What’re your thoughts on “write what you know?” Is there any common writing advice that you disagree with? As always, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments or on my social media pages!