I’m sure that most writers have heard this expression.
I have no idea how this ever came about or who created it, but I don’t believe it’s true. So let’s do a little test. Using this “Write what you know” theory, here’s a list of things I should be writing about:
— Teenage girls
So. As you can see, I would clearly be writing about a home-schooled teenage girl who suffers from insomnia and anxiety, and enjoys chocolate, writing, and books —
Oh, wait. That’s me.
Don’t get me wrong! Writing about yourself isn’t bad or anything, but what is that’s not my intention of the story? What if I don’t want to write about myself? That’s boring. (I love myself, don’t worry.) Writing about what you know, in theory, isn’t a bad idea at all. But for me, at least, it’s much less exciting. Here’s a list of things that I’ve written about that I don’t know:
— Mental illness, in particular Dissociate Identity Disorder
— The friggin’ apocalypse
— Romance/falling in love
— Amateur crime detecting
— Dragons (um, duh)
— England/other countries
Take a glance at the two lists. Now which one of them would you prefer? My answer is the very obvious — the second one, the things that I’ve written about before. (There are probably more, but those were the ones that jumped out at me as I was writing this blog post.)
Authenticity is great, but it’s not necessary.
As long as you do your research, get your facts right, I see no problem with writing about things you don’t know or understand. Take writing about different countries, for example. Here’s a fun/weird fact about my writing: I’m Australian, but I’ve never set a novel in Australia! I love Australia. It’s awesome here: We’ve got snakes, giant spiders, and the sun’ll burn you to a crisp… (Only kidding. Well, kind of.) But in all seriousness, we have some amazing beaches, great people — and adorable wildlife, like this little fella:
So why’ve you never set a novel here, Kara??
I like to write about new, exciting things! Things I don’t know. Things that inspire me. I’ve done quite the opposite of what the “write what you know” saying has said. Also because the majority of the novels I write are high fantasy, so “countries” as we know them don’t really apply. I like to write about things that excite me. Australia does not really excite or intrigue me in the way other places do. So would I ever set a novel here? Yeah, you know what, I would. One day. With the right idea, the right characters, I will.
What do you think about the phrase “Write what you know”? Do you prefer to write about things you are comfortable and familiar with, or, are you like me?