Saturday, July 11, 2009

Write What You Know

How do I feel about that statement?

On one hand, it is absolutely stupid to write what you know, especially for fantasy writers.  I mean, none of us know what's it like to live in a magic land or to live in sixth century BC Greece. It's all about your imagination.

At the same time, it's hard to write what you don't know.  Like...I think I have a mother fetish. What do I mean by that?  The MC of my novel is a mother.  And I'm trying really hard to make her feelings and thoughts authentic, but what the hey.  I don't know what's it like to lose a child. Heck, I have no idea what it's like to go through labor and watch a BABY pop out of your loins. It's pretty hard to simulate something like that.  And plus, the fanfiction story I'm supposedly working on at the moment (supposedly, because it's been on hiatus for the past week and a half) is about a mother dealing with her son being a "problem child."  He has ADHD and dyslexia, and he attracts all kinds of monsters.  I don't even know anybody personally who has dyslexia.  I've met maybe one person who had diagnosed ADHD.  And I've definitely not met any children of Poseidon.

I'm still pretty young, so there are plenty of experiences in life I haven't had.  It makes it all the more difficult to write certain scenarios in an emotionally accurate way.


  1. I think a better phrase to use would be:
    "know what you write well", or something along those lines.

    In other words, expand your knowledge and try to get to know what you want to write. If we only write about what we've experienced, then it's passive, because who knows what will we experience?

    Writing about what you know is very limiting for fantasy writers. As well as for young people in general...

  2. Personally, I think the "write what you know" rule is a bunch of BS. I think writing what you know certainly helps your writing and lends your writing credibility, but if you limit yourself to writing what you know, you're going to quickly find out you don't know much about and you'll have a very small pool of things to pick from. Plus, I think writing what YOU know chains your characters to your experiences and not theirs. For instance, who's the say the way you know grief or happiness is the same way your character knows it? "Knowing" is a very subjective matter.

    I think a better rule would be "make sure you research the hell out of something you don't know before trying to write about it," especially if it's something technical.

  3. It's interesting, I just did a guest post about this topic. I touched on fantasy writing as well. Clearly writing what you know is drawing from a well of experience and knowledge you've gained over the years. I am going to do a series on this later on but writing what you know covers so much more than the phrase implies. It's writing from things you've learned. Writing from emotions you've felt. Writing after doing research--and more!

    For the record, I still don't like that phrase :) It used to irritate me when I'd get that advice. In many cases, people were using it in a general sense. But other times they were saying writers had no place writing about physics unless they're physicists or something specific like that. That's just silly!