Ignore This Advice: Write What You Know

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably gotten lots of catchy, helpful advice like “Write What You Know!”

And if you’re not a writer, why are you reading this blog? It’s for the gifs, isn’t it?

kittens
I only read it for the kittens

It’s easy to hear “Write What You Know!” and think “I shall write a story about someone exactly like me doing exactly what I do.”

Well, I’m here to tell you to IGNORE THAT ADVICE!

Here’s the problem with writing a story about someone like you doing exactly what you do: It’s boring.

boring

You can be many things as a writer, but you do not ever, ever want to be boring.

Parts of my novel take place in Iceland. I’ve never been to Iceland.

An even larger chunk of the novel takes place in Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. I’ve also never been to Asgard (although Odin, if you’re reading this, I’m totally up for the trip).

If I wrote a novel based only on what I know, well, there’d be entire chapters devoted to World of Warcraft.

WoW logon
So many hours of my life… gone…

So don’t be limited by writing only “what you know” – go ahead and create that fantasy world! Put your characters in a submarine, even if you’ve never left the state of Oklahoma. Set your novel in Alaska, even if you live in Brooklyn.

Here’s the funny thing: As you write, even if your novel takes place in Middle Earth, or a spaceship, or the Land of the Dead, you’re still going to use what you know.

So What Do You Know?

 

I’ve never left the mortal realm, for example, but I still know what it feels like to be lonely, to get lost, to feel like I’m in over my head. I know what it’s like to fall in love, to lose someone, to struggle with a difficult choice.

And all those experiences have made their way into my work.

In the end, people don’t read a novel for the spaceships, the submarines, or the Alaskan setting. They read because they want to know if Frodo and Sam are going to make it to Mount Doom, and not because they care about Middle Earth, but because they care about those two little hobbits.

frodo and sam

Why do we care about Frodo and Sam?

Because we know what it’s like to be lost, to be scared, to depend on a friend when things are at their worst.

Because Tolkien took what he knew – the emotional core of the human experience – and he created a world around that truth.

So write what you know – the emotions, hopes, fears, and dreams. Just don’t get stuck writing about yourself.

Now get writing!

David_Tennant-You_Should_Be_Writing

 

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