Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Write What You Know???

Oh, come on, really?  How many times have we, as writers, heard that old, tired phrase.

Write what you know?  Only what you know?  Wouldn't that be, well, a bit limiting? Boring too, for you as a writer, and your reader as well.

If we're to write only what we know what the heck is that imagination we've been gifted with for? And what about the visionaries who've come before? Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and so many others.  Did they have intimate knowledge whereof they wrote? 

Sometimes we take things far too literally.

If you don't know about it you can't write about it - right!  How silly is that?

I have a theory.  When that old saying was first said I believe the person who said it meant it in reference to a general state - a sort of life experience state; not a literal if you haven't been to the moon you can't write about it or if you haven't seen a vampire you have no basis for your writing.

Look at it this way, it actually is quite easy to write about something we don't know about, but in actual fact, on some level we do.  Life gives you lots of experience and that imagination I was talking about gives us the ability to relate those experiences into pretty much anything we do.  It's a facile faculty of the mind writers have huge reason to be grateful for. That area of the brain is constantly picking up bits and pieces and relating them one to another. Pretty amazing, huh?

It's true, once we're past childhood (and even to a lesser extent during childhood) we have experience to draw from and that experience encompasses pretty much every aspect of life.  We've gleaned a glimmer of understanding about so many things on so many levels and on so many subjects that we can relate to them and extrapolate even more data. Yes,  it's true, we can write about them!

And, of course, for those breaks in knowledge, those holes that need to be filled, there's research.

Lucky us, we writers have springboards we never had before.  We have the web, libraries, experts that are easily contacted for vital detail. We have movies, TV and DVDs. Knowledge is everywhere.  We  have the tools to plug those holes in story to make it balanced and believable.

Research, though, is not necessarily the center of your creation: experience is. Dig deep for emotions you've experienced in your life, for situations you've lived through.  When you were a kid you fell off a bike.  As an adult you wrecked the car. You may not have met a zombie, but you've experienced real fear. You've seen beauty and ugly. You've breathed sweet roses and smelled foul air. You've felt love, anger and hate, joy and sadness.

Use the tools you've spent a lifetime thus far in collecting.

Write what you know.  But do it the way the originator of the phrase no doubt intended - use your experience and expand.  Don't get so hung up on an odd interpretation of advice that you limit yourself and curb your own potential. Exercise your imagination, tap your inner world and write what you love.


  1. I agree with every word, Peggy.

    "Write what you know" is often misinterpreted -- and taken to mean "don't step out of your comfort zone."

  2. It would be a boring if everyone only wrote what they know best... I think it's smart to take one aspect of what you know (or use to know) and put a spin on it... and the best spin is always the answer that follows a "What If" question.


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