29 June 2009

Are You Limiting Your Writing Life?

Anyone who writes has probably, at one point or another, heard the advice to "write what you know." While on the surface it may be good advice since it means you'll be able to write with knowledge, have you ever thought about how much it limits your writing?

Think for a moment about the different genres of fiction and literature that exist. Everything from historical fiction to urban fantasy to bizarro literature, many of which have a very frail link to "reality." And those who write these genres (well) have no experience in the field. They don't "know" what it's like to be a displaced artificial human or a Revolutionary War soldier or a man who, when he thinks about a particular children's lullaby, has the power to kill people.

And yet, they excel in their writing endeavors.

There is a balance between "write what you know" and "learn what you write." After all, even people writing fiction based on their own lives need to do some research to make sure their facts are right, and that the details are perfect.

So if research is necessary anyway, why would you limit yourself by only writing what you "know"? Instead, why not write what you want, and do the research you need to in order to become an expert in that field?

Perhaps "write what you know" should be altered slightly. Instead of taking it literally (which would mean an entire world full of exclusively realistic fiction), perhaps we should take it to mean that you should inject personal experiences into your writing in order for your readers to connect with the characters and stories. Perhaps it's not what you know from a research standpoint, but what you know from an experiential (is that a word?) standpoint.

What do you think?

Do you "write what you know"? If not, what do you write? Regardless of whether you write what you know or not, how much research do you do in a given writing week?



  1. I made a longer comment to Dana's article on this subject. The Cliff's Notes version is that I view this as guidance, not a rule to be strictly adhered to. The more you know about the subjects related to your writing, the more convincing you can make it - all other things being equal, of course.


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