And yours, too!
Write what you know is good advice, if you do it correctly.
We’ve all heard it a thousand times: “Write what you know, write what you know…” It’s practically a mantra in some writing circles.
So, should a lawyer only write legal thrillers?
A doctor only write medical dramas?
A plumber write a novel about a plumber?
No! That’s not what it means at all.
Write what you know refers to genre. It could just as easily be “Write what you read.”
After all, do you really think J.K. Rowling was a boy wizard, or Stephen King a miserable high-school girl with psychic powers? And if you think it only applies to fantasy/sci-fi/horror, etc., do you really think Tom Clancy was a submarine captain, or Bill Neary a Catholic priest treating lepers in Hawaii?
What Write What You Know Can Mean:
So, write what you know doesn’t always need the strictest interpretation. Yes, a lawyer might create more realistic legal jargon, or a doctor might create a better scene in the operating room. If you live in New York or Paris or Dubuque you may do a better job capturing the setting than an outsider, but everything, from your character’s career to setting, time period, and dialect can be researched. A native may have advantages, but with diligence, you can make up the difference. But the only way to write a compelling romance novel, fantasy tale, children’s book, etc., is to read them. Know what readers expect in their story. Study the craft, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then begin to write. Don’t do it the other way. You can experiment with style and voice and word choice and all that, but if you don’t write what you know, there’s a good chance you’ll write it wrong, or flat, or improperly, and that means starting over.
When someone says, as they always do, “Write what you know,” do it, but do it your way, because what you know in the real world can make your writing better.
Hi John! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be featured on http://www.ryanlanz.com on Nov 8th as a guest post. As usual, it has your credit/bio/link to your website. Feel free to hop in on the comments afterward. Thanks!
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