‘Write what you know’ – why it is a poor advice

Pieces of advice are all well and good if they are well meaning, some however, we should take with a grain of salt and make our own informed decision.

Clarityphoto on Instagram (http://instagram.com/p/Yzdp-uscL6/)
Clarityphoto on Instagram
(http://instagram.com/p/Yzdp-uscL6/)

You may be someone who dabbles in writing, and have spent quite some time practicing your craft and longing for some inside guides and tips etc. and for that reason, you stalk many a writers/bloggers/agents/publishers on what extra you could do, how you could go about getting the attention you crave. Here is one advice you are implored not to follow: write what you know. You and I both know what that mean. It’s asking us to only write what we have experienced, what we definitely know.

Yes! That’s a legitimate advice you have already come across/or may come across in your endeavour to tackle the writing giants, or knock on some doors for well-meaning questions and queries. Please, whatever you do, DO NOT listen to that particular advice. In my opinion, and that of many others, it is an absolutely silly thing to say to a writer. It may have its merit when tackling unforgiving topics, but you shouldn’t heed it 100% but instead file it away for later use when that advice might come in handy for a story that requires you to gain some perspective/experience.

Nikki Giovanni once said: “Writers don’t write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”

Now, think about it. I mean seriously. If I were to take that advice like an antidote to solving this problem then I’d be doomed as a writer before I even have a chance to make it in the industry. Truth be told, I wouldn’t even have a book published – because face it, all the things that happens in In Strange Company, has never happened to me. By this rule (if it were such) then I wouldn’t have the authority to portray a snowy world when I haven’t even seen snow falling in reality let alone what happened to characters on that terrain.

I’ve always had issue with this particular advice because I’ve come across it so many times, that it infuriates me to no end. I mean, I’ve always taken this advice to hint at your actual experience, so by this rule I’m inclined to assume that all espionage/crime/sorcery/gangster writers of such genre (among a long list other genre) would have had to commit said treason/crime/sorcery/violent act etc. to permit them to write about it.

I don’t know about you, but that makes this particular advice either really silly and shallow, or very, very dangerous. I dabble in writing different genres in my stories/shorts/poems – some are violent in nature, like A Kiss Goodnight, some are about death like Full Circle, some are bipolar like Colour of a Lullaby (Blue Lullaby). I mean, of all the things I’ve written, either on my notebook or blog, about 90% of that hasn’t happened in my life, so by this theory, I shouldn’t have written any of this, or whatever I have written is of very poor quality. Because the next part of that advice goes something like this: you write what you know because you will write it better than what you don’t know.

Agreed to a certain degree, but really, it is modern times with easy access to information at our fingertips – research! You don’t know something, or are hazy on the details, research. And I don’t mean just find one article etc. on whatever you are researching. Find more than a handful of sources that corroborate the information you want to use, and make sure those sources are legitimate. Then after that, go for it, write you story. Because at the end the day, it is your story and you know better than another on how you want to write, and what you want to write.

Please do refrain from acting out, hurting people, doing anything silly you shouldn’t, or risk your life for the story just because someone who is ‘in’ the industry told you to stick to what you know.

Like Giovanni, write what you want to write – the only difference is, make sure the ‘facts’ you present are real. That’s all. So go forth and write. No one can tell you how to write you story – they may give technical advice on grammar and punctuation and such – but you determine the flow.

Write what you don’t know and see what you learn.

Image courtesy of Claire Ryan, Clarity Photo

 

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