“Write what you know” may well be one of the dumbest sentences uttered in writer-dom. I get the logic of it…if you are familiar with a thing, than you can do that thing justice in terms of writing about it, but honestly, where’s the fun in that?
All of my writing life folks have been telling me that I should write what I know. Now that is great logic if you know everything, but what if you don’t? What if you are a really good writer but you actually know very little about anything else? Are you doomed to have the world’s smallest writing career because you are “supposed” to write about what you know, but what you know is, well, nothing really?
I was a reporter for over 30 years and to be honest, the only thing in the world I loved to do more than writing was learning. As a result, at a little over um….40ish…., I now know a lot of crap about, well….a lot of crap and I love it. What that knowledge has brought to my writing is amazing (not to mention I am a GREAT Trivial Pursuit partner) but I wouldn’t have learned all that I had if I had believed that I “should only write what I know” in the beginning. Writing about what I didn’t know got me my first newspaper job. It was, in fact, my research skills that impressed the editor.
Here’s the thing…as a writer it is a good thing to know a lot about a lot of stuff. It’s what helps us round out those characters or create more than a handful of characters. It’s what allows us to put our hero in London or Italy or Fresno. It makes our villain a soldier, a fry guy at McDonald’s or a barista in a bikini. (Those in the Pacific Northwest understand that last one) Knowing stuff makes it possible to be a good writer.
So next time someone tells you to “write what you know” punch them in the face or, if you are non-violent, stick your tongue out at them and tell them they don’t know what the crap they are talking about. Writers write about stuff, all kinds of stuff so it just stands to reason that we need to know stuff in order to write about stuff…..otherwise our stuff ends up one-dimensional stuff and who wants to read that. Learn fellow writers…learn…you have an excuse to be nosy now….go forth and write about what you didn’t know but now know because you wanted to know. You know?
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