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.
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.)
24 thoughts on “Write What You Know”
This was so helpful! Really provided great perspective and clarity on what to write and how to go about it. ❤
I’m glad it was 🙂 Never stop writing!
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. ”
“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 🙂
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!