Write What You Know

It’s a cliche of writing, just like ‘show don’t tell’ and others. But like most cliches, if you unpack it, there’s a lot to it.

If you write within your comfort zone, meaning things you really do know about, you might feel a bit limited. I, for example, know about a few things: being diabetic and overweight, bad love affairs, raising children, music, various religions, camping, certain areas of the United States, lots about the internet, many things about long distance relationships, sex good bad and indifferent, close friendships–okay, I’ll stop there. I meant to show that I’ve had something of a boring life and don’t know about much, but the list got kinda long on me. Which, backward, brings me to one of my points: you know more than you realize you know.

Now, if I set out to write a government thriller about nuclear scares in the Congo, I’d be hugely undereducated. But what if I wanted to anyway? This is where research comes in. If I were to read other people’s works of fiction about it… and study nonfiction works about the various subjects… and watch travel documentaries about the locations… and hunt down anecdotal private experiences, possibly even witnesses… I’d have a much better idea of how to write the thing. I’d also have done a lot of work, learned a lot, and increased my general fund of knowledge, which for many (including me, often) is the whole point. If I were a big-name writer, I could even justify an expense off my taxes for the travel and actually go there.

So today’s lesson is, yeah, write what you know. But 1) you already know a lot and 2) you can find out more. So write what you know… but learn to know what you want to write.

Word Count: 3264


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. todaysfreelancer
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 11:40:12

    Writing what you know isn’t really that limiting, since one area of knowledge can easily be expanded out into another.

    As an example – I have (ghost) written many eBooks on the phsycology of success. That single area of knowledge has helped me to write for clients in: physcology pertaining to trading, coping with divorce, success in business, etc. Each one required research to hone the work, but my own knowledge gave me a starting point for each.

    “Writing what you know” doesn’t necessarily have to be limiting.


  2. asherose
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 15:00:12

    That’s right. What you actually know, of your own knowledge, can expand to into many different areas. Imagination helps, and so does research. 🙂


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