Every writer has been told at least once in their lives to “write what you know”. I hate this piece of advice, mainly because it’s misunderstood.
Taken on its own (most likely out of context) if this advice were followed, most of the books out there would be more useful as doorstops. There would be no fantasy, science fiction, or historical stories. Writing from experience does have power, but only if the experiences are compelling. Truthfully, most of our lives are boring if they were put to the page. Maybe the advice was referring to that which I can know. Taken that way, the options are limitless.
I prefer to follow different advice, “write what you can research”. My first book Tied takes place in the world of girl gangs, something I can’t possibly have experience with. But after reading countless books on the subject, many written by girl gang members writing what they know, I can say I have enough knowledge to craft a compelling story. If done with respect, paying attention to the emotional integrity of the story, I’m ninety percent there.
No one really knows where the advice “write what you know” came from, but after doing the necessary research, through books, interviews, and experiences, I can become knowledgeable about anything. The new piece of advice should be “write about everything, and if you don’t know about it, find out.”
Photo by Mario Mancuso