Writing
Comments 17

Writing About What One Knows Best

I had often wondered about the advice that had been given to writers for who knows how long: “Write what you know.” Since this advice had been handed on from generations past, I never questioned it.  Now that I am no longer a professional writer, I find it easier to go against the grain, so to speak, and question what I read and hear about the writing craft.

This is one advice I cannot now bring myself to believe.  Why?  Because if I wrote only about what I know, then I would be limiting myself considerably.  Come to think of it, through the years that I worked as a feature writer, I never followed this advice. Thank goodness I didn’t.  Otherwise, I would have lost many opportunities to explore areas of life that I knew nothing about.  As a feature writer, I was always on the look-out for good story sources – and there were no limits.

If I had limited myself then to what I knew, I would have probably written only a fraction of the number of articles that I wrote – because I knew very little.

I still know very little.  Each day I try to know more. That’s what this blog is all about – to explore, to discover, to learn and then to write about the interesting world of writing.  If I write only what I know about writing, then this blog would have very few posts.

Here’s what writer Neil Gaiman had to say when asked what piece of advice about writing he considered false or misleading: ” ‘Write what you know’ when people use it to mean, do not imagine, do not dream, do not put yourself inside another’s head, do not make magic, do not create art that is anything or in any way outside of what you have seen or done. People know so much.”

When asked what positive advice he would give to a young writer, Gaiman replied, “Read everything. And make lots of amazing mistakes.”

Could it be that the advice had been misconstrued through the ages?  Could it be that it originally meant, “explore, discover, learn – and then write?

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This post was written for yeah write’s 31 dbbb challenge. Today’s task is: Write an opinion post.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile

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17 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you and I love the quote by Gaiman. I do believe the experiences you have impact you creatively but a writer’s mind should be free to write, explore, dream without boundaries!

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  2. I think writers do need to stretch & explore & go beyond our familiar lives, but I also think that on some level, we write the stories that we need to write for ourselves, in whatever small way. That there is some small emotional “knowing” that we bring to what we write, or some small memory or piece of something…so that while I take your point about the need to move out of our comfort zones, we are also ourselves, writing in whatever space we find ourselves. It’s maybe Yogi Berra or someone who said “wherever you go, there you are.” And so it is with writing, too, I think.

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    • I agree, Deborah. I think what you’re saying is that we should write what we know, but not limit ourselves to writing solely about what we know.

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  3. I agree with a lot of what you and others are saying. A) I love Neil Gaiman. B) i’m with you. I think “write what you know” is one of those sayings that gets twisted. I think really whoever first said it probably meant “don’t be the kind of writer who just spouts nonsense they think other people want to hear like you’re desperate to fit in with the popular kids at school. Write authentically. Be real with yourself and others.” But you can’t stitch that on a throw pillow so we got stuck with “write what you know.”

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    • Ah, yes! BE REAL WITH YOURSELF AND OTHERS. That could very well be what the writers of yore meant… pity though, that no one stitched it on a pillow!

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  4. absolutely. i mean, yeah, write what you know, but question what you know, and keep stretching your thoughts and your mind. if we only wrote what we knew, we wouldn’t have much to say. 😉

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    • Ultimately, writing should keep us stretching beyond what we know…you’re right, we should question what we know, so we can become good writers.

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  5. nataliedeyoung says

    I love the way this made me think. I personally write to escape, so if I wrote what I knew, I’d be very bored…

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  6. I long to be a professional writer. Or more of a published poetry writer. 🙂 I have heard and read this advice, and I totally agree with you. I was born, raised, and still reside in a small town in Va. with population 400. My grandparents raised me and my grandmother was rather strict. So, if I only wrote things I ‘know’, I guess it would be about church events, what my neighbors dog is doing, the river, and not too much of anything else. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences, like rock climbing in N.C. with our science teacher, beaches, ect. Yet, there is so much more exploring and knowledge I crave. I long to see California and the Pacific ocean for instance. I love reading and absorbing knowledge. I do think this advice has been overrated. Great post btw.

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  7. Donetta, I hope that you will be able to fulfill your dream of becoming a professional writer someday, of exploring California and frolicking on the Pacific Ocean. I hope someday to read your book of poems about life and your discoveries and explorations.

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  8. Good post. I’ve heard that all fiction is autobiographical. We write what we have experienced somehow, someway.

    Right now I am most comfortable with memoir, but maybe someday I’ll write a fairy tale. 🙂

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