Writerly Post Wednesday: “Write What You Know” — Pffft, No Thanks!

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

— Home-schooling

— Books

— Writing

— Insomnia

— Anxiety

— Anxiety

— Anxiety

— Chocolate

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.

Nickelodeon animated GIF

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.)

Flag Australia animated gif 240x180

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?



12 thoughts on “Writerly Post Wednesday: “Write What You Know” — Pffft, No Thanks!

  1. Yes yes yes to this post! Although a book about chocolate wouldn’t go amiss. I wouldn’t have much to write about either, to be honest. Except high school, which is really not that exciting. I’ve written about deaf and blind characters (and I have NO CLUE what it’s really like), the world of Wanderland and so many other things. I think imagination is the most important key, really, as long we get most of the facts right :)

  2. I feel the same way! I think that as long as you do any research that is necessary, you should be fine. And btw, those koala GIFs are possibly the most cutest things I’ve ever seen!!!! :D

  3. Yup, I’m with you on this….although I do think there’s a happy medium. Like you have to be super careful if you’re attempting a topic you don’t know about. Like I read a book about music and being a musician, I KNOW stuff about music. The book was an absolute flop and messed so many details, whiiiiiich makes me worried about writing about things I know zilch about. BUT HEY. It’s all about research, I reckon. Watch movies, read books. Like no author EVER just write about what they know. I’m pretty extra sure Suzanne Collins has not lived in District 12 and, hopefully, has not killed people. Right?! ANYWAY. I love this post and I totally agree with you. Plus: the friggin’ apocalypse people. IT’S AWESOME.

    • Yes — a happy medium is very important. I don’t think I’d ever attempt something like music, because I literally know nothing about it. But I’d never let my lack of knowledge on something stop me from writing a novel I wanted to write. :)

  4. Really great writerly topic Kara, I find it interesting how lots of Aussie YA authors write about Australia and lots of US writers do the same to their own country – because they know it best. But you are totally right about wanting to set your book somewhere exotic!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with this post. A writer can’t stick to writing only what he/she knows because then the story might just be a memoir in disguise. It’s so much more interesting to include things that you don’t know about. That said, I try to include both what I know and don’t know to make the story a little bit more realistic. Also, I think it’s wise to not tackle really serious subjects that you don’t know about because you could end up offending people.

    • I am also worrying about offending readers with stuff I don’t know about. But that’s particularly why I put a lot of effort into researching — to make 100 % sure I’m getting my facts right before I say them. I, too, do include things I am familiar with, but it might only be bits and pieces.

  6. I think that this saying is taken too much at face value. I never thought they were saying, “Write what you know” as in “only write what you have personally experienced” I always thought it meant more of a general thing. Like, I’ve repeatedly given young teens this advice when I see them trying to write from the POV of an adult because it almost never works. I think older teens can sometimes pull this off–but, even then, it depends on the teen. Most teens (especially sixteen and younger) would have a hard time writing a believable thirty-year old because it’s totally out of their realm of experience. How do you write the thoughts of an adult when you have never been one? I mean, adults writing teens is different–at least they’ve been there. And, even then, a LOT of adults have a hard time nailing that teen voice and end up sounding silly.

    Or I’ll see people who have grown up in other countries that are nothing like America trying to set their book in America. And getting MAJOR details wrong. Do you guys remember The Kissing Booth? (Beth Reekles–made it huge on Wattpad–got published)

    She said in an interview once that she really wanted the book to have a kissing booth so she had to set it in the US because there are no kissing booths in the UK. But, the thing is, (and maybe i’m wrong) but I was born and raised in the states–I’ve lived all over the US–and I’ve NEVER seen a kissing booth. ESPECIALLY not as a fund-raiser for a college/high-school. The whole idea of it is pretty gross anyway. Kissing people for money? Eeeewww. I can’t think of a single institute of learning that would support that as a viable fund-raiser–but neither the publisher of the books or any of the fans seemed to mind that KISSING BOOTHS DON’T EXIST OVER HERE EITHER!!

    And what about Fifty Shades–the lady who wrote it is from the UK and insisted on using British slang throughout even though it was set in the US. She also put specific directions to places in Washington and got ALL of them wrong. haha Now, obviously both those things could’ve been corrected with some better research–so, yes. Research can go a long way.

    BUT I think, ESPECIALLY for beginner writers, writing what you know is a good idea. You can still use your imagination and write about witches and dragons and wizards–because these things are all public knowledge and NOBODY has personal experience with them.

    But I’m not sure you can pull off writing a story about being a troubled teenager from an abusive home who is living on the streets if you’ve been rich your entire life and surrounded by people who love you. How would you EVER get the voice of that character right??? I don’t think there’s enough research that could get you completely in the mind set of a character like that if you had no personal experience with it. I think you’d at least have to KNOW someone or do a lot of interviewing of street kids or something and, even then, I’d bet that a book written by an actual person who had once been homeless/abused would have thoughts/details that a rich person would never have even thought of.

    Anyway, sorry for the book. haha. It’s a really interesting topic for a discussion!!

    • Haha, no worries — I love long comments! :)

      I can definitely see what you mean by teens trying to write in an adult perspective. I just don’t think it would work, and this is where the “write what you know” expression does make a heck of a lot of sense, because being an adult is clearly going to be different from being a teen.

      I haven’t actually read The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles — I’ve only read one of her novels, Rolling Dice, I think. Honestly, I don’t think kissing booths would be permitted anywhere! Wouldn’t there be some sort of hygienic code put in place by the school to prevent this?? That doesn’t seem to make sense with today’s health standards. I’m surprised a school/college would even allow something like that. (I could be completely wrong here. I live in Australia, and I’ve never seen a kissing booth here.) Haven’t read Fifty Shades, either, but man, surely if you’re going to set a book in the US you’d do some proper research!? I set a book in Canada, and I spent hours on the internet as well as looking at travel brochures, videos, and personally asking people who lived there about the region where I set the novel whether I’d gotten facts/lingo correct.

      Thanks for stopping by on my blog and commenting! :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s