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Write What You Know

28 Jul

writewhatyouknow

Should you or should you not?

‘Write what you know’ is a statement you’ll hear the moment you decide to be a writer. It’s a cliche advice with two camps: the camp that supports it and the camp that doesn’t. There is no unanimity with this notion. Having both pros and cons, it naturally creates opposing beliefs.

Should you write what you know, you save time. You save money. You don’t have to put in as much effort, as when you’re writing what you don’t know. Writing what you know is easier. But writing what you know also puts you in a box. It doesn’t expand your horizons or challenges your ideas. In a way, it makes you complacent. So should you or should you not, write what you know?

Let’s take a step back and look at the statement from a different perspective.

As people with expanding intellect, we have the tendency to complicate things that aren’t meant to be complicated. Simply taking this advice as it is will give us the answer we need.

Write what you know.

You know the sky is blue. You know salt is salty. You know silk is soft. You know birds chirp. You know death is heartbreaking. And you know the joy of reunion.

You also know the sky changes colour as the day progresses. You also know salt makes food less bland. You also know silk clothing is comfortable. You also know a chirping bird can be both annoying and pleasant. You also know life goes on after death. And you also know memories can bring about laughter.

You know a lot, don’t you?

So should you write what you know? Yes. You should.

Writing what you know doesn’t just encompass what you’ve learned in school. In fact, it shouldn’t encompass head knowledge at all. Writing what you know is simply drawing from your experiences as a human being, and giving life to whatever you’re writing.

When I was writing The Battle for Oz, I hadn’t read the original book I was spinning from. I only read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz long after the book was completed. I also didn’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland until after I was done reading Oz. Heck… I didn’t even finish Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. However, I still managed to complete The Battle for Oz with the help of Google and what I already know.

With my own life experiences, I was able to create a story without even being a fan of the original works. And that itself, made The Battle for Oz my book. Your book and your story is yours because you’re writing with what you and only you know. No one can write like you, or craft stories like you, because they’re not walking in your shoes or experiencing life as you do. The statement that ‘everyone has a story to tell’ holds true.

At the end of the day, writing what you know is only natural. Writing isn’t grounded in the knowledge of a genre or a specific idea, but writing is grounded in you. Knowing yourself plays a big role in writing. And focusing on putting yourself in your works, instead of merely gathering knowledge, makes a piece all the more believable… and all the more unique.

You don’t have to be the best, most knowledgable writer in the world, to write what you want to write. You can write about anything and everything, as long as you know yourself.

Now… for some Calvin and Hobbes humour.

calvinhobbes

I hope this post answers this question, should you be looking for an answer. But even if it doesn’t, I hope you’ll write with you in mind.

You know a lot. Don’t underestimate yourself.

(Edit: Based on some comments, I’d like to clear a possible misunderstanding: I’m not saying don’t do research and write from solely what you know. Do research. But don’t ever feel like you don’t know enough to embark on any writing journey.)

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24 Comments

Posted by on July 28, 2016 in Writing Journey

 

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24 responses to “Write What You Know

  1. The Shameful Narcissist

    July 28, 2016 at 11:02 am

    I always felt as though “write what you know” was far more encompassing than many made it out to be. Like symbolically and thematically, I write what I know. I know about pain and loss and a certain type of despair so that’s woven into nearly all of my stories. I have an inherent understanding of depression and anxiety, so I write that without directly *saying* that I’m writing it (I also believe in showing not telling). I’ve heard another caveat: write what scares you. I think “write what you know” is supposed to mean you write from an informed emotional standpoint, but you still do a lot of research. I know I certainly do, and writing what scares you will often move into the realm of the unknown since that’s one of the most frightening things we can conceive.

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      July 28, 2016 at 11:19 am

      Exactly. And the fact that I cannot write what you know gives you your own unique voice. As creators, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to ‘books and cleverness’ but expand our abilities by speaking from within.

       
  2. takehomeanywhere

    July 29, 2016 at 9:34 am

    I think about this phrase a lot. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time but feel paralyzed as to what to start writing about! This post eased my mind a bit 🙂

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      July 29, 2016 at 9:43 am

      I’m glad this post helped 🙂 I’d suggest writing what you’re interested in, or what draws your interest. Then use what you already know to make it work.

       
  3. Microfox

    July 31, 2016 at 8:05 am

    This was a great post that made me think a lot. I’d heard the phrase before, but had interpreted it literally. It’s good to know that it applies to our universal experiences, that are also very personal, even if it sounds contradictory. I love it.

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      July 31, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      Thank you! The soul of the writer makes the story, not his/her intelligence 🙂

       
  4. Marlon Manalese

    August 1, 2016 at 5:36 am

    I’m a dualist, so I believe in embracing both sides of everything. You’re right that we should write what we know based on our personal experience and axiomatic info like the colour of the sky changing throughout the day, but we should also expand our horizons and research new things for our stories. Once you KNOW new information, then you continue to write what you know.

    Never right what you don’t know, unless you aim for logical inconsistency or if you plan to make an interesting twist on the usual.

    Also self-knowledge truly is a good tool for writing. With it, you can make nearly accurate guesses on how characters should behave in certain situations simply from observing the ambivalent we feel when we make decisions.

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      August 1, 2016 at 8:05 am

      Of course, one should always research what one is writing about. However, not knowing something shouldn’t hold you back in writing. A lot of times, people don’t attempt to write on a particular subject because they feel they don’t know enough. When in reality they do. Perhaps not on an intellectual level, but on a personal level. We know enough to embark on any writing subject. Just like my journey with The Battle for Oz, Google was my best friend. I did my research, but I had no prior encounters with the classics involved. Still, I wrote anyway 😊

       
      • Marlon Manalese

        August 1, 2016 at 11:11 am

        Yeah that’s true. You can also always use your limited knowledge and put into the character to create a sense of mystery and wonderment about a topic.

        I have a novel snippet on my blog where I wrote about a man losing his apartment, and I wrote that way before I had any understanding of how renting one even works. Still I wrote it because I didn’t let my lack of knowledge prevent me from writing the story regardless.

        If it’s for fun, who cares if you don’t have the details? If you plan to publish and sell a story, then there’s always time to research and edit later. What’s important is getting the ideas out first.

         
        • Jeyna Grace

          August 1, 2016 at 11:17 am

          Yup, many great ideas get stuck at the assumption of ‘I don’t know’. ‘I don’t know’ is never an excuse to not do something.

           
  5. theworldofpenelope

    August 1, 2016 at 11:18 am

    I was just thinking about this cliche. What a great post to read!

     
  6. sinisterdarksoul

    August 1, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Well spoken. I find this post pretty inspirational considering I’m trying new things myself, in terms of writing.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Cheers! 🙂

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      August 1, 2016 at 11:52 am

      You’re welcome and thank YOU for giving it a read 😀

       
  7. theunquoteblog

    August 1, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    A brilliant post that crushed any insecurity I had left in me regarding writing about what I know. I felt limitted because of my (relative) lack of experience. But I realize that any experience is worth words. All are stories in their own right.
    Thankyou for this post. 😊

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      August 2, 2016 at 9:28 am

      I’m so glad my post helped! We are never lacking in experience or knowledge, we only have yet to gain more 🙂

       
  8. Jaclyn Penn

    August 4, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Love it! “Write what you know” is an important writer’s phrase, and one I think people interpret too much as lacking adventure. We can never know too much, nor everything. Buuuut what we know propels stories, discovers the unknown, and reaches people, and those are important keys to a good book.

    Also, in my absence, I am halfway through the Oz series! If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. It is adorable, creepy, and witty rolled into fourteen novellas. I really enjoy seeing where other writers have been influenced by these books as well.

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      August 4, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Oh, I couldn’t agree more, Jaclyn. You summed up what I wanted to say in just one paragraph. Haha!

      I’m thinking of going into it. The first book was so simple yet so engaging, I believe the rest are the same? I love me a simple story with a great adventure.

       
  9. rheatethyss

    August 11, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    I love the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon because it reflects how I’ve felt about the “write what you know” advice for a long time.

    Since the first time I heard that phrase I kept thinking it doesn’t make sense. So if someone is and has always been poor, they should not attempt to write about rich people? To generalise that: if someone doesn’t know anything about a group of people they should not write about them, or maybe keep their parts to a minimum? What about all the fantasy worlds that were created?

    Recently though, I have stumbled across George Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay and it really impacted how I think about writing and about “read what you know”. In the last passage of the essay he says this:

    “(…) one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. ”

    and:

    “I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”

    I agree with you that writing should be about “simply drawing from your experiences as a human being, and giving life to whatever you’re writing”. I just think that, for me, “write what you believe (in)” is a little more accurate 🙂

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      August 12, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thank you for sharing that excerpt! Such powerful words from Orwell 🙂
      “Write what you believe in” eh? Well, you couldn’t have said it better. Now I wish this was what I centered my post in. Haha!

       
  10. monkeyeverythingblog

    October 7, 2016 at 7:49 am

    This was so helpful! Really provided great perspective and clarity on what to write and how to go about it. ❤

     
    • Jeyna Grace

      October 7, 2016 at 9:07 am

      I’m glad it was 🙂 Never stop writing!

       

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