We’ve all heard it. Some of us have heard it so often it is little more than a familiar cliché. I’m talking about the age-old piece of advice to ‘write what you know’. I think the phrase has been credited to Mark Twain. Anyway, being that I am of a philosophical nature, I have spent considerable time pondering this adage. It has to be sound advice, right? Otherwise, why would so many great writers use it. I’ve come to the conclusion that it all depends on how you interpret it.
If you take the phrase ‘write what you know’ literally, then as a writer your scope of material is extremely limited. What if you want to write a story about divorce, but you’ve never been divorced? Does that mean that you shouldn’t write that story? The same goes for a story about an overweight man. If you’re a petite woman, does that mean you should disregard the urge to put pen to paper about that subject. I think not. It means that you should become an expert on the vast experiences of divorce and life as overweight person. It means that you should make it your mission to intensely study that which you have not experienced first hand. Authenticity is the goal.
On the flip side, writing based upon your own first hand experience is much easier. Writing about something you have lived will help things unfold naturally. You’ll have the opportunity to spend less time researching external factors and more time being introspective. Writing from personal experience can also be healthy and cathartic.
Bottom line-I agree with the advice to write what you know to a certain extent. However, I’d like to add an appendage: make it your business to ‘know’ more.
What’s your interpretation of the advice to write what you know?
- 5 right reasons, and 3 wrong ones, for writing your book (tracyleekarner.com)
- Advice for New Writers (triolachelsea.wordpress.com)