Write What You Know

Posted by Anthony North on January 20, 2011

Write what you know. That’s what we’re told. If we don’t know about it, how can we write about it? Actually, quite easily. Life is full of experience, and we have a mind to relate those experiences into many areas of our lives.
Vital to this mental process is common sense. This is a faculty of mind we can all rely upon. It’s like a little piece of intelligence up there in the brain, constantly telling us how to relate to this or deal with that. It is one of the writer’s best friends.
No matter what the subject, we are bound to have experience of it. And from that glimmer of understanding, thoughts can so easily come, ready to be noted and finally written down. But of course, there will be breaks in your knowledge of this subject you don’t know about. That’s where research comes in.
Contrary to belief, in many areas of writing, research is not the central tool of the craft. Experience is. Research is the thing you do to fill in the blanks and allow the final piece to be co-ordinated and whole.
Write what you know. What a load of rubbish. It is the one piece of advice that stops many writers reaching their full potential. Yes, the finished piece may be rubbish, but it’s up to publishers and readers to decide that. Not you.
Write what you know. Never has such a terrible piece of advice been given. Writing what you DON’T know may be the secret to unlocking the area of writing you’re best at. So ignore the advice. It is only used to keep you out of other writer’s genres.

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  1. Norah Wilson said on April 26, 2011

    Very refreshing! I’ve often thought that little nugget was suspect. If I wrote only about what I knew, no one would want to read it.

  2. Anthony North said on April 26, 2011

    Hi Norah, thanks for that. Yes, it’s a clever little mantra – to be ignored.

  3. tom alex said on July 24, 2011

    OK Mike or excuse me,
    Anthony, let’s get back to Stonehenge. I thought I was original in the thought that it looked like a transmitter (as well as other historical relics). Actually I’m fibbing. I thought they looked like recievers! really.

    Anthony, I’m writing a short-short biographical fiction in which Jung meets Einstein for a series of dinners (this happened) at a famous “Odeon Cafe” in Zurich (this didn’t necessarilly). I need ambiance for turn of the century Switzerland and any other thoughts you might kibble to me that would enhance my story. thanks

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